The first reading at Mass today – the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – comes from the book of Numbers. It is a somewhat obscure narrative about the establishing of a cohort of elders to relieve Moses of some of the onerous work as leader of the people. But the main interest in the passage is provoked by two characters, named but otherwise obscure, who act in ways which attract criticism, and yet act in a way approved, and indeed enabled, by God.
The Lord came down in the Cloud. He spoke with Moses, but took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the spirit came on them they prophesied, but not again.
Two men had stayed back in the camp; one was called Eldad and the other Medad. The spirit came down on them; though they had not gone to the Tent, their names were enrolled among the rest. These began to prophesy in the camp. The young man ran to tell this to Moses, ‘Look,’ he said ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ Then said Joshua the son of Nun, who had served Moses from his youth, ‘My Lord Moses, stop them!’ Moses answered him, ‘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!’
Perhaps the calling of the 70 is to be understood to be a prefiguring of teh ‘elders ‘ of Israel, even of the Sanhedrin. And clearly this is a matter of some abiding significance for Israel, and yet the attention of the passage is on the absent two, and the agitation this causes. Charism and institution are in tension, even charism and habit, even as new institutions find validation in charism (the elders prophesy, but we are told not again.)
The reading is chosen for the Liturgy of the Word because of its echoing the gospel passage for today from Mark which tells of the disciples mistrust of and antipathy towards others who place store by the name of the Lord, but are not of their number. As so often, they must have wished they’ve kept quite, so powerfully does Jesus challenge them about their own shortcomings! Likewise the young man in Numbers, and certainly Aaron.
Pope Francis in a speech this week suggested that all good leaders must follow Moses and Jesus in not defending their territory and power, but looking for ways to lead all to the good.
A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223).
- What power do you have?
- Are there times when you know you could do more good by relinquishing power or sharing it more widely?
- What helps you do that? What holds you back?
Bring your reflections to God in prayer.
Detail of Bema, Old Synagogue, Kazemierz, Cracow, Poland. (c) Allen Morris, 2013.