01 October 2006

Avoid the worms and quench the fire!

26th Sunday OT: Num 11.25-29; James 5.1-6; Mark 9.38-43, 45, 47-48
Respect Life Sunday
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Irivng, TX

Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that all the people of the Lord were lions with angel wings to fly instead of walk! Would that all the people of the Lord grow trees with golden leaves and flowers with diamond blossoms! Would that all the people of the Lord had free utility hookups to the Guinness brewery and the chocolate factory! Would that all the people of the Lord were born beautiful, talented, intellectually gifted, filthy rich, and flawlessly generous. And would that all the people of the Lord find perfect peace, lasting happiness, and reciprocated love before dying gloriously defending the faith in a pitched battle against the heretical armies of poststructuralist critics, scientistic historians, indifferentist ethicists, and all the elite nastinesses of syncretistic theologians, modernist theorists, and snotty cultural savants. How glorious a battle that would be!

Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets. Not a good idea, Moses. Sorry. All that prophesying, all that divine madness and noise and rattling on about God’s will and God’s word and What the Lord Would Have Us Do…blahblahblah. No. Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on all His people! Again, sorry. No. All that spirit floating around settling on folks would be chaotic. Too dangerous, of course. Very messy that. No procedure. No policies. No paperwork. Bestowing spirit like throwing confetti on a Labor Day parade in New York City. Sounds kinda communist. Wishful thinking. Cry in one hand and wish in the other—see which one gets filled first. Joshua has the right of it, Moses, “Stop them, my Lord, stop them from prophesying without the proper credentials!”

And Jesus said to John, “There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.” In what might be called a rather generous inclusivity, Jesus throws his own prophetic mantle around the shoulders of all those who do mighty deeds in his name. Careful. He recognizes the authority of those who perform mighty deeds in his name b/c for them to do so is an act of conversion to his cause. He’s not saying here that just anyone who claims to do mighty deeds in his name is doing them with his authority. What he’s saying is, “The fact that this guy does a mighty work in my name will guarantee that he is unable afterward to speak ill of me.” In other words, if some guy is pretending to perform an exorcism or a healing in Jesus’ name and is (surprise!) successful, that success will make it impossible for him to oppose Christ b/c such a mighty work can only be successfully done in his name. Not against me? Must be for me.

Joshua and John seem to have a legit worry. What will happen if just anyone who wants to can prophesy or exorcise demons or heal the sick? Joshua and John are worried about the reputations of their masters. They are worried about division—literally, schism, resulting from divided loyalties among those who might claim to do mighty deeds but who really just want to foment discord or rally opposition to established authority. Moses knows that the Lord has rested His spirit on the elders who missed the tent meeting. And Jesus knows that no one can work a deed as mighty as exorcising demons unless they are doing so properly in his name. Moses eases Joshua’s anxiety by praying that the Lord would make all His people prophets, that the Lord would send His spirit on all His people. Jesus eases John’s worry by assuring him that no one who works in his name can be against him and must therefore be for him. Jesus knows that his arrival as the Christ among the people heralds the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Lord’s sending of His Spirit in answer to Moses’ prayer: would that all the people of the Lord were prophets.

The Lord bestows His spirit on all of His people! All of His people are prophets! No wishing thinking here. No lions with wings. No golden trees or dreamy LOTR martyrdom fighting against the armies of darkness. By baptism we are prophets. By the sacraments of initiation into the Body of Christ, we are made into prophets, priests, and kings—those upon whom the Spirit rests—and we are given authority to do mighty works in Christ’s name. This is not an invitation to radical ecclesial innovation or convenient schism. This is not an open door to personality cults or whackoes claiming mystical powers. This is not permission from the church to engage in wild displays of spiritual powers. What it is is a clarion call to you, all of you and each of you, to take on the mantle of your baptism and to be a prophet in Christ’s name. To be one upon whom the Spirit rests. To claim your proper authority as one who does mighty deeds in his name, as one who speaks his mighty word to those who need to hear.

Do these works in his name for his glory and you cannot be against him. Do these works for applause, for personal gain, for power, control, or for pietistic theatre; do them against his Body, the Church, the little ones who believe in him, and find yourself gutted by hell’s immortal worms and roasting in eternity’s trash heap. Find yourself wishing for a millstone necklace and deep blue sea.

How will you prophesy in the Lord’s name? What mighty works will you do in his name for his glory? You see, if your life is a sacrificial outpouring of charity, of mercy, of love to your neighbors, you do mighty works; you speak a mighty word. If your life bursts at the seams with the gifts well-used, treasures easily shared, talents on godly display, then you do mighty works and speak mighty words in his name. If, however, you store up your wealth against the danger of a last day; if you greedily hoard the gifts the Lord has given you to disburse freely; if you withhold from the Lord’s little ones your generosity and forgiveness or waste your treasured time sitting in judgment of those you have no right to judge, then “you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.” Check fat heart-eating worms. Check unquenchable fire for roasting.

To live a prophetic life in Christ is to live a life of rebellion, a life in revolt against the dictates of this culture’s deadening, soulless ideologies: all the ways the world strives to turn the human person into useful labor or genetic produce or cosmic accident or just plain ole meat. To live a prophetic life in Christ is to live a life of violation, a life of disobedience to this world’s spiritual discouragement, public ridicule, material temptation, and religious and political violence. To live a prophetic life in Christ is to live a life of infection, to spread the deadly virus of daring and saintly deeds, to spread the bellicose bugs of holiness and righteous awe. To live a prophetic life in Christ is to live your life soaked through and deeply planted, heavily swathed and tightly wrapped, beautifully adorned and righteously arranged all in the Lord’s name! All for his glory!

Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on all His people! He has! He has. Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! We are! We are. Now. Prophesy and shake the foundation of the world.


  1. You write too much. Why you don't write less. It's more easy to do some comments. See you!

  2. Anonymous8:31 AM

    You do not write too much. Keep writing as you do...even more often. Your prose makes the comments come alive. See you!