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September 30, 2018: Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Pastor’s Corner

The Holy Spirit surprises.  In our readings this weekend, we hear Holy Spirit stories which highlight the reality that the Spirit of God enlightens people in astonishing and unexpected ways.

In the first reading from the Book of Numbers, we encounter Moses and the people of Israel as they journey from Mount Sinai to the Promised Land.  Almost immediately after receiving the blessing of the Law and Commandments, the people tire of the road trip and foment rebellion against Moses.  Frustrated by their lack of trust and perseverance, Moses suggests that God choose another leader.  God’s response is to help Moses to understand that leadership is not about doing everything himself, but providing a vision and empowering others to help lead.  God tells Moses to gather 70 elders who will share the responsibility of governance and bring them to the tent in which the Ark of Covenant is kept. Once gathered, God bestows the spirit on these elders and they begin to prophesy in a manner which foreshadows the moment of Pentecost for Peter and the apostles after Christ’s Ascension. Then, in a surprising turn, we discover that two of the elders had not joined the others, but remained in the general camp. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit comes upon them and they begin to prophesy as well.  When Joshua complains that they are outside the appointed area and charges Moses to stop them, Moses famously responds “Would that all of the Lord’s people were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his Spirit on them all!”

This great hope that all might be open to receive God’s spirit is echoed in the Gospel.  When the Beloved Apostle John encounters someone who is not one of his fellow apostles casting out a demon in the name of Jesus, like Joshua, John heartily recommends that Jesus censure such activity. In fact, John relates that he tried to thwart this non-sanctioned exorcism.  Like Moses, Jesus responds that John’s reaction was misguided and no one should prevent the working of the Holy Spirit. “There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me.  For whoever is not against us is for us.”

Like Joshua and John, those who are most faithful to following God’s mission can err when the Holy Spirit works in surprising ways through unexpected people. This is a good reminder that God’s grace and blessing are not limited to those who have positions of leadership in Church.  In fact, when we consider the pattern of the Holy Spirit working through the Bible and in history, it is often the most unlikely persons who God choses to bring about his plans.  For those who consider themselves to be insignificant or to be not particularly blessed or gifted, today’s reading encourages an openness to the surprise of the Holy Spirit’s activity.  The fire of the Spirit is for all. To paraphrase St. Catherine of Siena: Don’t be surprised that when “you are who God calls you to be, you will set the world ablaze!”

 -Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.

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