There is a story in Acts of the Apostles chapter 19. St. Paul had been in Ephesus for two years, preaching and healing in the name of Jesus Christ. Then itinerant exorcists came into the city. They were like the traveling medicine men of the Old West, selling snake oil that healed everyone’s woes........for a price. When they learned how the popular Paul had become, they saw a chance to make a profit using his name and Jesus’ name. It would be relatively simple since they knew that many people would be healed by the power of suggestion. The trouble is that they came upon the real thing, a man who was really suffering from demonic possession. These charlatans, the seven sons of Sceva, proclaimed over the man, “I adjure by the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches to come out of this man.” Well, the devil answered back from the man, “Jesus I know. Paul I know. But who are you?” The Jews fled for their lives.
This weekend's first reading and Gospel tell totally different stories. We see in the first reading Eldad and Medad weren’t at the gathering, but they still received the Spirit and began to prophesize. Moses's assistant and successor, Joshua, could not tolerate the two men who started prophesying without attending the appointed place at the appointed time, but Moses had the wisdom to know that God gives the spirit to whomever God wishes. Moses was about extending boundaries.
The first reading provides biblical background for the Gospel with Jesus's response to the same kind of jealousy. The apostle, John, noticed a man casting out demons in Jesus name. He said, “We tried to prevent him.” Jesus gives a warning to his disciples for their jealousy and suspicion. Jesus told them, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Jesus was about extending boundaries.
Are we not like the disciples when we get upset at the good others do because of jealousy or fear? Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa put it, "We are to watch with joy, not with jealousy, the many who prophesy and cast out demons, thus contributing to authentic human development." So stretch out our hands in generosity. The only restriction concerns whatever causes you to sin and lose the kingdom. Otherwise, expect God to work in unexpected places, in unexpected people, in unexpected ways.
A couple of years ago when I did the homily on this passage, someone asked me after the Mass, “Father, how do we recognize the working of God’s spirit in our world?” The first story I explained from Acts, tells us to be prudent. This weekend’s reading tells us that we need to recognize the goodness around us and lead others to goodness, joy, love, and holiness. I think we need to pray to the Holy Spirit and ask help, so we can see his presence and spirit in action around us.
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