26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B
Note: Where a Scripture text is underlined in the body of this
discussion, it is recommended that the reader look up and read that
1st Reading - Numbers 11:25-29
The book of Numbers is a narrative account running from the 2nd year
after the Israelites left Egypt up to almost the end of Moses’
life: a total of about 39 years’ wandering in the wilderness. It
takes its name in the Hebrew Bible from bammidbar (which means
“in the wilderness”). The Greek translation (the
Septuagint) however, calls it “Numbers,” and the Latin
follows suit. The title “Numbers” is really less than
satisfactory, because the counting of the people doesn’t take up
much of the book. The book is really a history of the main events of
the wanderings in the desert.
The book begins with God’s express command to Moses to make a
census of the people (thus, Numbers). The effect of this census shows
that God has indeed kept His promise to Abraham (Genesis 22:17)
“I will indeed bless you, and I will make your descendents as
countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore: your
descendents shall take possession of the gates of their enemies”.
The 70 member family of Jacob which had entered Egypt, now, some 450
years later, numbers around 600,000.
The Book of Numbers divides into 3 parts:
1) In Sinai (chapters 1-9);
2) The Journey Through the Wilderness (chapters
10-21); and 3) On the Plains of Moab (chapters 22-36).
Today’s reading comes from the account of the journey through the
wilderness. About 11 months after they arrived at Sinai, the Israelites
broke camp and set out on their journey to the promised land, carrying
the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle (a tent) and the associated
ritual vessels and vestments. As usual, some of the voyagers are
grumbling about the food. Moses becomes frustrated and talks with God
about it: “‘Why do you treat your servant so badly?’
Moses asked the LORD. ‘Why are you so displeased with me that you
burden me with all this people? Was it I who conceived all this people?
or was it I who gave them birth, that you tell me to carry them at my
bosom, like a foster father carrying an infant, to the land you have
promised under oath to their fathers? Where can I get meat to give to
all this people? For they are crying to me, ‘Give us meat for our
food.’ I cannot carry all this people by myself, for they are too
heavy for me. If this is the way you will deal with me, then please do
me the favor of killing me at once, so that I need no longer face this
distress’” (Numbers 11:11-15). God told Moses to gather 70
elders and that He would spread the burden of the people among them so
Moses would only have to bear a portion. Moses gathered the 70 around
the meeting tent.
25 The LORD then came down in the cloud and spoke to
him. Taking some of the spirit that was on Moses, he bestowed it on the
seventy elders; and as the spirit came to rest on them, they
This is understood as an ecstatic or charismatic phenomenon (1 Samuel
10:10-13; 19:20-24) rather than becoming prophets like Isaiah,
Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc.
26 Now two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad,
were not in the gathering but had been left in the camp. They too had
been on the list, but had not gone out to the tent;
The tent was located outside the camp.
yet the spirit came to rest on them also, and they prophesied in the
camp. 27 So, when a young man quickly told Moses, “Eldad and
Medad are prophesying in the camp,” 28 Joshua, son of Nun, who
from his youth had been Moses’ aide, said, “Moses, my lord,
stop them.” 29 But Moses answered him, “Are you jealous for
my sake? Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would
that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!”
The acknowledgment of Eldad’s (his name means “whom God has
loved”) and Medad’s (his name means “love”)
prophetic charism, over the objections of Joshua, serves to protect the
independence of the prophetic gift from those who would subject it to
institutional control. Note the parallel with Luke 10:1ff where seventy
are commissioned to act as an advance party for Jesus’ arrival as
2nd Reading - James 5:1-6
This week we complete our study of the Epistle of James in this cycle.
In fact, the Sunday readings won’t contain James again until the
3rd Sunday of Advent in Cycle A. The main purpose of this epistle is
the teaching of morality and self-discipline. The sacred writer speaks
with great severity, not mincing his words, in order to make people see
that actions of the kind he condemns are incompatible with the
profession of the Christian faith.
In today’s reading the author again criticizes the sins the
well-to-do. He reproves their pride, vanity and greed and their
pleasure seeking; warning them that the judgment of God is near at
People who are well-to-do should use their resources in the service of
others. In this connection, the Church teaches that “They have a
moral obligation not to keep capital unproductive and, in making
investments, to think first of the common good. ... The right to
private property is inconceivable without responsibilities to the
common good. It is subordinated to the higher principle which states
that goods are meant for all” [Sacred Congregation for the
Doctrine of Faith (22 March 1986), Libertatis conscientia, 87].
5:1 Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries.
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (Luke 6:24).
2 Your wealth has rotted away,
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth
and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal.” (Matthew
your clothes have become moth-eaten,
Fine clothing was the principal form of wealth in antiquity. Greed is
one of the seven deadly sins. A greedy person offends against justice
and charity and becomes insensitive to the needs of his neighbor.
3 your gold and silver have corroded,
Although gold doesn’t corrode (rust, tarnish), this indicates the
basis worthlessness. “Spend your money for brother and friend,
and hide it not under a stone to perish” (Sirach 29:10).
and that corrosion will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire.
This is possibly an allusion to fuel for the fire of judgment in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; Hebrews 12:29.
You have stored up treasure for the last days.
A reference to the Day of Judgment. Can also be translated “You
have laid up treasure in the last days” which is consistent with
the thought that the coming of the Messiah signaled the beginning of
the end times and judgment was near at hand. A belief which became fact
for the Jews in A.D. 70.
4 Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud,
Cheating workers of their earnings was already condemned in the Old
Testament (Leviticus 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:14-15; Malachi 3:5). It is
one of the sins which “cries out to heaven” for immediate,
exemplary punishment; the same applies to murder (Genesis 4:10), sodomy
(Genesis 18:20-21), and oppression of widows and orphans (Exodus
and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
“Lord of Hosts” is a common Old Testament name for God (Isaiah 5:9).
5 You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure; you
have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.
Again, a reference to the Day of Judgment (Jeremiah 12:3)
6 You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous one; he offers you no resistance.
Saint James may be alluding to Sirach 34:22 “He slays his
neighbor who deprives him of his living: he sheds blood who denies the
laborer his”. This may also allude to Wisdom 2 and 3 where the
godless plot the destruction of the righteous poor man (especially
Comment: Since we are leaving the Epistle of James as our second
reading, a few words of closing are in order. The central teaching of
this letter is the consistency between faith and works. This teaching
was accepted unquestionably up to the time of the Protestant Revolt,
when this text was seen as an insurmountable obstacle for the theory of
justification by faith alone. From that point onward, in Protestant
circles, the claim is made that James was written as a correction to
what St. Paul says in Romans 3:20-31 and Galatians 2:16; 3:2,5,11.
Let’s compare what Romans 3:28 and James 2:24 say:
(Romans 3:28) “For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”
(James 2:24) “See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
Although the terms used (“faith” and “works”)
are identical in these two verses, the perspective is different and
there is no contradiction or correction necessary. For Saint James,
“works” are acts of morally correct behavior. For Saint
Paul, “works” are the legal works of the old law
(circumcision, ritual washing, animal sacrifice, etc.) all of which
were burdensome, and/or costly, and ineffective. They no longer have
validity because Jesus has instituted the New Law (Covenant) to fulfill
the old one. Saint Paul says in Galatians 5:6 that faith works through
love and Saint James says that we must live out that faith because of
The Catholic Christian does not do “good works” because he
is compelled to do them, but because he is impelled by the Holy Spirit
to do them. The doing of “good works” does not earn a place
in heaven, heaven is only open to those who live the life of Christ in
its fullness. Works done grudgingly or with the intent of
“earning” salvation are ineffectual.
Gospel - Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48
The 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (2 weeks ago) Gospel reading contained
the first of three instructions to the apostles: “If you are to
be a follower of Jesus you must deny yourself, take up your cross and
follow in His footsteps.”
Last week we heard the second instruction: “If you wish to be a
leader, you must remain humble and be the servant of all.”
This week we continue with this second instruction.
38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name,
This ties back to the preceding verse which we heard last week when
Jesus said “receives one child such as this in my name”
– this person is acting as Jesus’ emissary.
and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.”
This incident addresses a problem that arose in the early Church (Acts
19:13): What do you do when non-disciples cast out demons in His name?
Note the parallel with Eldad and Medad in our first reading.
39 Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him.
Jesus’ tolerant attitude is based on the idea that if they
recognized His power, and acted as His representative, they would be
slow to speak ill of Him (1 Corinthians 12:3).
“Some who are intent on severe disciplinary principles which
admonish us to rebuke the restless, not to give what is holy to dogs
(Matthew 7:6; 15:26; Mark 7:27), to consider a despiser of the Church
as a heathen, to cut off from the unified structure of the body the
member which causes scandal (Matthew 5:30; 18:8-9; Mark 9:42-48), so
disturb the peace of the Church that they try to separate the wheat
from the chaff before the proper time (Matthew 13:29-30). Blinded by
this error, they are themselves separated instead from the unity of
Christ” [Saint Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 413), Faith and Works,
There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the
same time speak ill of me. 40 For whoever is not against us is for us.
This is a generalization, in proverb form, of the teaching in the
preceding sentence (see also Matthew 12:30). Through these three verses
Our Lord warns the apostles, and through them all Christians, against
exclusivism: the notion that “good is not good unless I am the
one who does it” (see also Philippians 1:15-18).
41 Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink
because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose
Note that here the situation of the previous verses is reversed: now
someone is doing a kindness to the disciples because they recognize
that they are Jesus’ emissaries. Note the parallel with welcoming
a child for His sake in last week’s gospel (verse 37).
42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
This is the catchword for the remainder of this reading. The
“little ones” may well refer to members of the community of
the disciples; just like the little child of verse 36.
it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his
neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to
sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than
with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire.
According to 2 Kings 23:10, the Hinnom valley (the Hebrew is ge Hinnom)
had been used as a place for child sacrifice to Molech (see Jeremiah
7:31; 19:5-6). Although the term Gehenna originally described the
valley to the southwest of Jerusalem which, because of its defilement,
became a garbage dump with continually burning fires, it came to be
synonymous with the place of torment for the wicked (2 Esdras 7:36;
Enoch 27:2; 90:24-26). This is not sheol/hades/purgatory; the place of
the dead/Abraham’s bosom.
Verses 44 and 46 do not appear in the New Revised Standard Version,
Revised Standard Version, Revised English Bible, New American Bible,
New Jerusalem Bible, New International Version or Good News Bible. They
do appear in the King James and New King James Versions and are
identical to verse 48: “Where the worm does not die, and the fire
is not quenched”. The reason for the difference in translations
is that these verses are not in the best ancient manuscripts and are
thought to be scribal additions for reasons of symmetry.
45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you
to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into
Gehenna. 46 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better
for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two
eyes to be thrown into Gehenna,
The structure of the sayings is the same in verses 43, 45 and 47. If
one part of the body causes you to sin, cut it off in order that you
may enter life/the kingdom and avoid Gehenna. This is a communal
metaphor and serves to exclude members of the Church, the Body of
Christ, who give offense. It is not a literal saying as the
hand/foot/eye is not the cause of sin; weakness of will is.
48 where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’
Jesus’ words are based on Isaiah 66:24 where Gehenna with its
filth and smoldering fires is described. The child sacrifice in the
valley of the son of Hinnom was instituted by King Ahaz. This
institution is described in 2 Chronicles 28:1-3. Often “their
worm does not die” is explained as the eternal remorse felt by
those in hell; and “the fire is never extinguished” as
their physical pain. At any rate, the punishment in question is
terrible and unending.
“This is no trivial subject of inquiry that we propose, but
rather it concerns things most urgent, and about which many inquire:
namely, whether hell fire has any end. For that it has no end Christ
indeed declared when He said, ‘their worm does not die, and the
fire is not quenched’. Yes, I know a chill comes over you on
hearing these things. But what am I to do? For this is God’s own
command. ... Ordained as we have been to the ministry of the word, we
must cause our hearers discomfort when it is necessary for them to
hear. We do this not arbitrarily but under command” [Saint John
Chrysostom (ca. A.D. 392), Homilies on the First Epistle to the
St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, Picayune, MS http://www.scborromeo.org