26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

For a moment I invite us to imagine what it’s like to enter the mind of God. This is just a hypothetical exercise, so try not to wander. Resist the temptation of picturing how you would create a fresh new universe filled with creatures after your own image and likeness, and how you would destroy your enemies and all evil-doers. This is a limited exercise, so we won’t be delving into every burning question you’ve always wanted to ask God. Instead, let us enter into the mind of God. Since we will likely picture God in as many different ways as there are of us here, we will need to set some parameters. For starters, we will need to keep in mind the totality of Jesus Christ, and how he thinks and behaves as we encounter him in sacred scripture, since we already believe he is God’s own Son, possessing God’s very own nature, and being God himself.

Now God created the universe. God created light, and all the galaxies, all the stars, planets, moons, asteroids, and all sorts of physical worlds we can imagine, and probably many others completely beyond our power to imagine. God set in motion the many laws of the natural world to govern everything God had created. Some of these laws, we human beings have eventually identified and given names to, but many are as yet beyond our grasp, which we have yet to discover and understand. And God looked upon everything he had created, and saw that it was good.

Then God created our earth and everything in it, plants, animals, birds in the sky and fish in the sea, and every living creature that walks, waddles, crawls, and slithers upon the earth. God created human beings, female and male, after his own image and likeness. And God looked upon everything he had created and saw that it was good.

But human beings, given the power for self-reflection and choice, have not always thought and behaved in a manner pleasing to God who created them. Instead, they used their God-given abilities with malice and selfish intent, sometimes inflicting great harm on their neighbor and other creatures, and sometimes causing damage to the physical world God had entrusted to their care. For a while, God allowed the laws of nature he had set in motion at the beginning to repair this anomaly introduced by his human creatures. But in the end, God determined he had to intervene. So God sent his Son to take on our nature, and live and walk among us, so that he might halt, undo, and repair the great harm and damage we had inflicted upon ourselves and upon the world.

Now cut to this present moment in human history and our current state of affairs, with all our awesome advances in technology, our tremendous efforts to understand our world, our remarkable progress in improving many lives through innovations in medicine and healthcare, food production and distribution, care for the environment, social justice, and international diplomacy. From God’s perspective gazing upon all God has made, the many concerns of individual people seem trivial. But God is not dismissive. We know Jesus welcomed the poor, the hungry, the sick, the leper, the children, and the sinner. Despite being sublimely above our many trivial concerns, God is moved to compassion, and is not deaf to our cries and supplications.

So when John, one of Jesus’ apostles, comes to him with an observation that they had seen someone driving out demons using his name, and tried to stop him because he was not one of their number, Jesus shakes his head. Why would Jesus not be alarmed? He had chosen 12 to be his closest collaborators. And elsewhere he chose 72 to visit places and preach repentance ahead of him. And now some unidentified opportunist was taking advantage of his reputation and driving out demons using his name. The nerve of this unauthorized unlicensed dispeller of evil entities! But it seems Jesus is not threatened. He does not feel cheated or insulted. God has absolute power and infinite authority over everything in the universe. He had actively given a number of his closest collaborators a share in his work and the appropriate means to accomplish that work. In God’s efforts to halt, undo, and repair the consequences of evil, sin, and death that humanity had unleashed in the world, God welcomes willing collaborators and allies who desire exactly what God himself desires. As far as God is concerned, no harm, no foul. “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.”[1] It seems like such a low bar. But Jesus articulated it himself. And if we stop to consider it, only God has power to drive out demons; only God can give power to drive out demons. So if these men were driving out demons, God must have given them the power. Jesus could have just said, “Calm down. I told them to do it.” But he didn’t. Welcome to the mind of God.

The passage from the book of Numbers has a similar ring. Joshua, who had been Moses’ aide from his youth, was jealous that two men were given the gift of prophecy although they were absent from a gathering of those picked to receive this gift. Moses had earlier asked God for assistance in his work of leadership, and God instructed him to appoint 70 elders who would be given a share of his spirit. God gave his approval and the 70 elders received the gift of prophecy. It was not Moses’ gift to give. It was God’s. And if God chooses to give his gift, who are we to question God’s choice? Do we mean to monitor God’s intentions, supervise God’s plans, evaluate God’s acts? If you were God, would you welcome this kind of scrutiny and review by some random self-appointed brazen critic work of your hands? I didn’t think so.

So often we encounter people who articulate such outrage and indignation they presumptuously claim is nothing less than the outrage and indignation of God himself. They will assume God’s honor and reputation are tarnished by their neighbor’s malice or careless indifference. But in truth they are annoyed and offended for themselves. By invoking God they think their claim of outrage and indignation sounds much greater. If Jesus declined to call on his Father to send down 12 legions of angels to rescue him from the indignity of the crucifixion, what convinces us our annoyance and offense rises to a level higher than the indignity of the crucifixion? Are you jealous for God’s sake?

Jesus does warn us against causing those dear to him to be led to sin. “It would be better if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”[2] Now there’s an outrage we can get behind. But never in Jesus’ lifetime did he in fact put a millstone around anyone’s neck and throw them into the sea. Clearly it is a strong warning, and quite graphic at that. But will we ever have enough millstones? Instead, we are given charge and power to build others up and to prevent harm. Outrage is cheap talk. Our actions speak much louder. Welcome to the mind of God.

Rolo B Castillo © 2018

[1]Mark 9: 39-40

[2]Mark 9: 42