Readings: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29; Mark 9:38-50

There’s an interesting similarity in the Numbers and Mark lessons for today. In Numbers, the people weep because the manna in the wilderness is nothing compared to the good food they had in Egypt. Moses goes before God and complains about the heavy burden that the people have become. God’s solution is to have Moses gather 70 elders of the people at the tent of meeting, where God’s spirit rests on them and they prophesy (but, notes the text, this was a one-time occurrence). But two elders, Eldad and Medad, also receive the spirit even though they remained in the camp, and they prophesy as well. When informed, Joshua declares that Moses should put an end to this “unauthorized” prophesying. Prophecy, it seems, is Moses’ bailiwick. This is reflected in Moses’ reply: “Are you jealous for my sake?” But he goes on: “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

 In Mark, the disciples tell Jesus about someone moving in on his territory: “We saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” This episode occurs immediately after the disciples have been arguing about who is greatest among them. Thus, we’re invited to see this incident as another example of the disciples’ tendency to in-group and out-group: we’re in the inner circle; that guy’s a two-bit nobody who’s trading on Jesus’ name but doesn’t really get what he’s all about. Jesus’ reply? “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.” He goes on to say that even those who do no more than give the disciples a cup of water because they follow Christ will gain “the reward.” Jesus follows this with a series of statements: about putting a stumbling block before “these little ones who believe in me”; about one’s hand, foot, or eye causing one’s own stumbling; and about the nature of having/being salt—being “at peace with one another.” lectionary

Jesus’ standards for who is “with him” are shockingly broad, including those who (we might speculate) are using his name to gain glory for themselves by casting out demons; and those who do nothing more than provide a cup of water for his name’s sake. At least Eldad and Medad were “registered” elders! At least in Numbers there’s no doubt that God’s spirit rested on them too! Here those affirmed by Jesus do not even have a name or credentials of any kind.

Jesus’ and Moses’ final words in these lessons are telling. Jesus’ statement, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another,” casts light on what immediately precedes it. Stop arguing about who is greatest. Stop ranking people by whether they know enough, or do enough, or believe enough to be “in.” Stop in-grouping and out-grouping and be at peace with others. That’s how you’ll show your saltiness. Moses’ words should send us to Acts 2 and Luke’s description of Pentecost as the fulfillment of Joel 2—as a day when God’s spirit is poured out and the people prophesy. Christians believe that the Holy Spirit has indeed been poured out. The question, then, is whether we’re living in the power of the Spirit so that we’re able to bear witness to God’s redemptive intentions for the world, or whether we’re more interested in determining who’s “in” and who’s “out.”

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