On Sunday, the first reading was from Numbers. Generally, the purpose of the first reading is to thematically set the table for the Gospel.
In this case, Joshua jealously complains to Moses about two fellows in the desert encampment prophesying. The two had not been with the rest of the seventy when Yahweh anointed them in the spirit.
It’s a perfect segue to the reading from Mark in which John goes to Jesus to snitch on “a man who is not one of us,” who was working miracles in Jesus’ name.
In response to John’s indignation, Jesus sanctions the man’s healing actions saying, “Anyone who is not against us is for us.”
The passage from Numbers performs well as a warmup act. Any attention to it in the preaching is usually on Moses refusing Joshua’s request for an order to cease and desist: “If only the whole people of Yahweh were prophets ...”
That’s all good, but there is something else that begs reflection.
Verse 11:25 says that Yahweh took “some of the spirit” from Moses and put in on the seventy elders. That stuck in my mental craw.
This was the Moses, saved from an infanticide and raised in the Pharaoh’s court?
The Moses who went into a rage seeing an Egyptian overseer beating a slave, then murdered the offender?
The Moses who first refused God’s call to free His people from bondage because he was “heavy of tongue” and “Pharaoh will not listen?”
The Moses who was often fed up with the whining of the people of Israel and impatient with the deliverance of God?
Yet this doubting, failing, sometimes selfish prophet had enough spirit to infuse the seventy with faith-nourishing strength and prayer-sustaining energy to go about the work of the Lord.
There is something awe-inspiring but deeply challenging about that. I wonder if my own life, led in easy faith and tentative commitment, will ever be enough to affect the lives of even seven people, much less seventy.
It is not about leading a good life now for some character reward later, or building a solid eulogy resume. It is about doing what Moses did, stepping beyond himself into an authentic and abiding concern for others and for the kingdom that welcomes them.
If only I could live as I am meant to be, act as I profess to be, and love as I want to be, the spirit in me might be infectious as well.