AM I AUTHORIZED?
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B
September 26 2021 – 10:30 AM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Numbers 11:25-29 | Psalm 19:8;10;12-14
James 5:1-6 | Mark 9:38-41
+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We live in a credentialed world. Like many people, I have a Driver\’s License. However, I also hold a Real Estate Broker’s License, and I am a licensed attorney, although now I’m listed as inactive with the State Bar. I have a Doctor of Law degree from Western State University, and a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Pittsburgh. At one time, I was licensed as an insurance adjuster and as a private investigator.
The United States and other advanced countries place a great deal of faith in credentials. I use the term “faith’ not in the sense of a doctrine, but in the sense that the public generally trusts those who have certain credentials as being competent in those functions they offer to perform. Generally speaking, this is true, and as to people that affect health, safety, and finances, like medical professionals, investment advisors, and attorneys, credentialing and education serve a valid purpose to protect the public. But Church doesn’t involve any of those things. The church is different. The church exists to actualize the Gospel.
Today’s Gospel has the disciple John reporting to Jesus that someone not part of the immediate followers of Jesus was casting out demons in his name. The disciples tried to stop them, but Jesus, however, would have none of it. Jesus told them, “Do not stop them.” Jesus said that no one who did a “deed of power” in his name could possibly be against him.
Notice that even the disciple John did not dispute the effectiveness of the ministry conducted by this unauthorized exorcist, whoever he may have been: At least one person’s life may have been changed for the better, perhaps radically so, yet John offered no word of thanksgiving or celebration for that work of deliverance.
But perhaps the unknown exorcist understood more about Jesus than the disciples. For Jesus, what gets done is more important than who does it. To give you a contemporary example, most Jews I know live the teachings of Jesus better than most Christians in caring for the least among us. Look at the billions of dollars in Jewish philanthropy.
That this exorcist is not named is a significant fact. True disciples of Jesus are not known by their pedigree, genealogy, their connections, or even personal familiarity with Jesus. What matters is their devotion Jesus’ devotion to God shown by their service to humanity. The attempt by the disciples to stop a man from performing exorcism in the name of their teacher brings Jesus to talk to them about recognizing potential supporters. The way Jesus perceives the matter is that this unknown and unaffiliated exorcist was not doing any harm, so why hassle him?
Some Christians think that those without a theology degree have no business as clergy and thereby harm the Church. I do not have a theology degree. Yet I stand here today before you as a Catholic Priest ordained by a bishop in the Apostolic Succession. Does the fact that I don’t have a theology degree make me any less a Priest? No, it does not. Catholic theology holds that when the sacrament of ordination is validly conferred, with the proper matter, intent, and form, it effectuates a permanent ontological change in the recipient. Once a priest, always a priest. No one can undo the work of the Holy Spirit.
Not until the mid-Sixteenth Century did any significant portion of the Church have seminaries, that is, schools to train clergy. Seminaries in the Roman Catholic tradition began with a decree from the Council of Trent that commanded every diocese to erect, or arrange for, a seminary to educate clergy. So how were clergy trained before that? They did as I did. They read for orders. That means they studied under the close supervision of a tutor. My tutor was Father James Farris.
A disciple is a student. A disciple is one who disciplines himself in the teachings and practices of another. In the days of Jesus, Rabbis typically had a following of disciples whom they taught. The disciples of Jesus, who would later become his Apostles after the Resurrection, did not acquire in a classroom the knowledge they would later use to spread the Good News. No, they learned it by listening to Jesus himself and working with him in his ministry.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus corrects his disciples’ self-righteous antagonism toward so-called “unauthorized persons” by making clear to us that we are all called to serve Jesus, rather than to evaluate each other’s credentials and compliance with institutional norms.
If you read the Book of Acts and the Pauline epistles, you will see that ministry consisted of baptizing, preaching, feeding hungry people, and breaking bread together in Eucharistic fashion. Early Christians did not go to school to obtain credentials to do those things. They simply did them.
That is what Jesus wanted. Actions, not credentials, were more important to Jesus. But the most important thing for Jesus was to drive out evil. Who did it, or why they did it, did not matter. The important thing was that the evil vanish. Yet we often see one body of Christians saying to another body of Christians: “Begone; we neither know you nor any longer want to be associated with you. You are not one of us.”
This is not a new problem. The tendency to drive from the community and punish those who are “not one of us” has ancient origins. Conflict over leadership and inclusion dates back to Old Testament times. We see the same approach in today’s First Reading, where some of the followers of Moses got all excited about unauthorized prophesying. Eldad and Merdad were not present at a ceremony to commission elders. Their names were on the list of people to receive the spirit of God, but for unknown reasons were not present at the actual ceremony. Yet, despite not being present, they received the same spirit as well. Moses, just like Jesus, said not to stop them. In fact, Moses said,
“Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!\”
Think about that. All the people of God as prophets. God’s spirit to be on all of them. Isn’t that what happens at our Baptism?
At Baptism, we are anointed with the sign of the cross and sealed by Holy Spirit on our forehead to mark us as Christ’s own forever. In the words of the ceremony we use, you become prophets, priests, and kings.
At Baptism, we committed ourselves in our Baptismal Covenant to become prophets proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ.
At Baptism, we committed ourselves in our Baptismal Covenant to stand up for justice by seeking and serving Christ in all persons and respecting everyone’s dignity.
Promoting respect for everyone’s dignity requires that we call out the evils enumerated in today’s Second Reading. Those evils are greed and materialism. Eliminating greed and materialism is far more important than the validity of the personal credentials of those who call out those things. The fact is, over the course of time, some things never change. Now and in ancient times, humanity has been attracted to money and luxury. I don’t think that will change in the future.
Now don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with becoming a wealthy person. What is important is how you made your money and what you do with it. Did you get wealthy by exploiting other people? Did you get wealthy by paying the least amount possible in wages so that you could live better than most people? That’s wrong. Those methods of getting wealthy do not comport with the promises made at our baptism to respect the dignity of every person. And how much philanthropy do you do? Some of the world’s wealthiest families, like the Ford family and the Gates family, have established reputations for the generosity that speaks well for them.
You don’t have to be a member of the clergy to figure that greed and materialism is a problem. Nor do you even have to be religious at all. When you live in a country where one percent of the population controls forty percent of the wealth, something is very obviously wrong, particularly when there are people who don’t have a roof over their head, who don’t have enough money to buy food, or cannot afford medical care. How we go about fixing that on a practical level is a topic for another day, but the agenda of Jesus laid out in the Gospels requires that we pay attention to that problem. Exorcism is driving out evil spirits. Greed and materialism are the manifestations of evil spirits. Jesus doesn’t care who fixes that problem. Jesus just wants it fixed.
The Church should recognize that it is far more important to stand with everyone who calls on the name of Jesus and does “works of power” in his name than to spend energy and waste resources wondering if we are all on the same team and trying to exclude, denigrate, or excommunicate those who in our judgment encroach on our turf. This behavior has made a sorry mess of things over the centuries that hinder the propagation of the Gospel of Jesus.
Today’s Gospel underlines that we as disciples must welcome others who work or come in the name of Jesus, for such people are likely to remain valuable supporters. That many people are more comfortable with those who are like themselves is a common human trait and are too quick to discard anyone who is not like themselves. We must move beyond our comfort zone into an inclusion zone.
When we as disciples act or speak in the name of Jesus, the world will recognize, or at least, should recognize, the God-given power of Jesus, his authority, and his status as the Son of God. When we do that, we demonstrate of faith in Jesus, that is, our loyalty to Jesus and our trust in Jesus.
Those who serve in Jesus’ name will be drawn into a deeper friendship with him, and the standards are clear: those who give that cup of cold water to those who are thirsty will find their reward.
Our oneness is in Jesus Christ and in the blessed ministry of the gospel is what we can render to a hurting and marginalized world. This is the deepest teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, and it is as accessible to us as it was to his disciples. It is not just a teaching. It is also a blessing. To be part of that blessing, however, we must not be afraid to follow and serve. AMEN.