Numbers 11: 25-29; James 5: 1-6; Mark 9: 38-48
So how about that Pope Francis? He has really captured the imagination and hearts of many of us here these days. I’ve had many people say a similar sentiment that they just can’t get enough of him. It’s nearly impossible to take in every word he has to say because there is so much! Maybe first it’s a recognition in our own lives how much we starve for something more and how empty we can sometimes be on this journey of faith. James has reminded us over these past weeks just how empty the riches of this world can bring about, especially when they become an end in and of themselves rather than a means to an end. For that matter, that starvation has even been in our Church, where we too have made the Institution the same thing rather than a vehicle to salvation; we’ve tried to make it into God. This pope wants to invite us and take us on another journey, one that rises 50000 feet above the ground and at the same time 50000 feet below the sea, from the depths of his own soul, into this larger vision of the Kingdom that is already present.
So why is this starvation and poverty within us so attracted to this guy? I think this gospel today gives us a glimpse into why he feeds us in that way. Jesus encounters the disciples at a moment that follows them arguing among themselves about who’s the greatest and now they haven’t been very successful in driving out demons as they’ve watched outsiders be able to pull it off. They find themselves jealous and resentful, considering they are the insiders. So what’s the trick? I think the gift of Pope Francis is, in many ways, an embodiment of that gift of the Spirit, but in order to get there he needed to face his own dark night. Much has been written about his time when he was exiled from his own community when he was forced to look within, into his own darkness that often hindered him as a leader. The disciples will need to be led to that place in their own lives; one will have to face denial and the weakness under the pressure of the powers that be. They will have to not only confront the Cross of Jesus they will have to confront the cross in their own lives in order to embody that same gift of the Spirit. Otherwise they are like many of us, unable to drive out the demons, sputtering along in life, starved for the something more that Pope Francis models for us.
When we lack the courage to confront that dark night within our own lives, we seek power and the spirit from outside ourselves. We abuse the power that we are all too familiar with and what Jesus warns us of. In those moments we try to squash the Spirit in others, steal it from them because we fear it’s power. We want to control it and take it for ourselves. We try, often without much success, to box God in rather than embodying the gift and allowing ourselves to embody it and live it fully. It’s nothing new. Moses finds that in the confrontation with Joshua in the first reading today as well. Like the disciples, some want the Spirit but they want it copyrighted for themselves. Somehow they get to decide and choose who receives this Spirit and who doesn’t. As Catholics we have been taught since we’re kids that we mustn’t trust this power within ourselves. The authority comes from the priest and the authority comes from the bishop and the authority comes from the pope, and although there may be truth in that, Francis tells us, as well as Jesus, that we all have this gift within ourselves, but all too often we doubt it and do mistrust it. Yet, to embody this gift of the Spirit, all of us, we must learn to trust and we must be willing to pay the price of the Cross in our own lives in order to live our lives as he has modeled, 50000 feet above, but maybe even more importantly, 50000 feet in the depths of our very hearts and souls.
The gift is readily available for all of us, and as Francis mentioned yesterday, we have a responsibility to grow the mission by embodying that Spirit and then living it. Quite honestly, when we embody it we are pushed to share it because it can no longer be contained, as we so often try in our lives. There is no place for fear in living this embodiment, rather, simply a deep trust of something we can’t explain in words but only share, a gif that breaks forth leading so often to a life of unpredictability and just as important, no longer controlled by the trappings of the outside world. Some may hate it because they haven’t found it and fear going there, but it’s there, albeit it dormant at times, ready to break forth when we enter this journey into the starvation and poverty of our very souls.