Life and Soul

Word This Week

Jesus rebukes the narrowness of his disciples in this Sunday’s Gospel reading

The 26th Sunday of the Year
NM 11:25-29; JAS 5:1-6; MK 9:38-43, 45 & 47-48 (YEAR B)

‘But who can detect all his errors? From hidden faults acquit me. From presumption restrain your servant and let it not rule me.” The psalmist acknowledges the ‘‘hidden faults’’ that so easily escape our consciousness. Hidden pride is perhaps the most insidious of the many failings that can distort our judgment and colour our presumptions.

Such was the hidden pride encountered by Moses in the desert. At the Tent of Meeting, Moses, accompanied by the 70 elders, had spoken with his Lord. On this occasion the God of Israel imbued the 70 elders with the spirit of Moses, and they began to prophesy immediately. In terms of the narrative, this was not remarkable. What followed was remarkable.

The same spirit had also come down on Eldad and Medad who had not been present with Moses and the 70 elders at the Tent of Meeting. They also began to prophesy, prompting the reaction that was voiced to Moses by Joshua: “My Lord Moses, stop them!”

Clearly there had been a presumption on the part of those who had accompanied Moses to the tent that they, and they alone, were the recipients of the Spirit. Consequently they were blind to any perception of the Spirit beyond their own narrow circle. The response of Moses was scathing: “Are you jealous on my account? If only the whole people of the Lord were prophets, and the Lord gave his Spirit to them all.”

Simple though this story is, it illustrates the blindness and presumption with which we so often hinder the generosity of God’s love. Generosity and grace are not the preserve of the chosen few. There are countless examples, throughout the Scriptures and beyond, of outsiders who became the instruments of God’s grace. We, however, frequently insist on our own narrow perception, and are sometimes blind to the goodness before us.

Such was certainly the case in a similar incident encountered by Jesus: “Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name, and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.” Jesus, like Moses, rebuked the narrowness of his disciples: ‘‘You must not stop him. Anyone who is not against us is for us.’’

Rather than defining and condemning the outsider, our eyes should be open to God’s presence wherever it is to be found. This seems self-evident, and yet prejudice frequently blinds us to the goodness that is to be found in every generation, every culture and every class. With Jesus there were neither outsiders nor insiders, only the openness that acknowledges goodness wherever it is to be found: “If anyone gives you a cup of water just because you belong to Christ, he will most certainly not lose his reward.”

Bishop David McGough




The four great Doctors of the Western Church are Ss Augustine, Gregory the Great, Ambrose and one whose feast is on September 30, the often cranky Jerome (d 420). Doctors (from Latin doceo, “to teach”) are saints whose teachings are especially important and who make an outstanding contribution to the Church. The classical characteristics of a Doctor are eminens doctrina; insignis vitae sanctitas; and Ecclesiae declaratio … eminent teaching; remarkable holiness of life; and official proclamation of the Church.

Speaking of cranky, Jerome’s picture might aptly appear by the entry in an illustrated dictionary. As the poet Phyllis McGinley (d 1978) put it: “A born reformer, cross and gifted, / He scolded mankind / Sterner than Swift did”. As an example, when St Augustine (d 430) complained to the older man that his Latin translations of the Scriptures were upsetting people and provoking violence (back then people took their faith seriously), Jerome chided Augustine as having understood little, being young, and recommended he stick to tending his African flock.

Moreover, Jerome did not like St Ambrose (d 397) one little bit. Concerning Ambrose’s meteoric rise from unbaptised politician to Bishop of Milan, Jerome penned (ep 69.9.4), “Heri catechumenus, hodie pontifex … One who was yesterday a catechumen is today a bishop; one who was yesterday in the amphitheatre is today in the Church; one who spent the evening in the circus stands in the morning at the altar; one who a little while ago was a patron of actors is now a dedicator of virgins.” He also, according to his alienated friend Rufinus, called Ambrose a croaking black crow (ill omen), and accused him of plagiarism.

St Jerome’s sometimes caustic approach to his interlocutors reminds us that we today can have discussions which accomplish more than tiptoeing around each other’s eensy-weensy feelings. While Jerome’s invective doesn’t give us licence to be uncharitable, he reminds us that oft-times hard-pointed words are required to punch through the floating soap bubbles that pass for discourse now.

By the way, if the saintly 11th-century Armenian monk Gregory of Narek (“Who?”) can be Doctor, it is hard to grasp why St John Paul II cannot be. John Paul, Pope of the Family, fits the bill. Pope Francis should declare John Paul to be the “Doctor of Mercy” this upcoming Divine Mercy Sunday. Dottore subito!

Fr John Zuhlsdorf
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