- Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22 and Psalm 124 •
- Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29 and Psalm 19:7-14 •
- James 5:13-20 •
- Mark 9:38-50
|Esther with King Ahasuerus -- late 15th century Swedis|
At this time of year the Revised Common Lectionary offers quite a few options. These relate chiefly to the Old Testament lessons and the Psalm. Sometimes there is a choice with respect to the Epistle, but the Gospel is always fixed. This week one OT lesson relates the final episode in the story of Esther, the beautiful Queen who relied on her royal husband’s love to subvert the malicious scheme by which the King’s adviser Haman planned the destruction of her people, the Jews. The words of the Psalm appointed to be sung with it (Ps 124) reflect the outcome – ‘Let Israel now say; If the LORD had not been on our side, when enemies rose up against us; Then would they have swallowed us up alive in their fierce anger toward us’.
The alternative OT lesson comes from the Book of Numbers and connects more directly with the Epistle and Gospel. It too recounts a very human episode, one of those many occasions when, in the course of their wilderness wanderings, the Children of Israel complain about living conditions (this time the lack of fresh meat) and accuse Moses of having led them to disaster rather than liberation. Moses expresses to God the kind of exasperation that many clergy have felt about the congregations committed to their charge – Why have you given me sole spiritual responsibility for these people? In response to Moses’ complaint, God appears directly to seventy elders who might assist him. But the impact is short lived. Only two take up the task of prophet. And yet Joshua complains about them! They are threatening Moses’ special position.
The words with which Moses rebukes Joshua are very similar to those of Jesus in the Gospel reading. When John complains to Jesus, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us’, Jesus replies, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us’. One lesson to be learnt is this. The task of maintaining and spreading the Christian faith is so big and so important, it needs far more than just a few people. But by the very same token, it is a task that those already at work on it have to be willing to share.
Of course, some who take up the message will indeed get it wrong, or do it badly. But the Epistle (from James) wants us to see this, not as a threat, but as an opportunity –‘if anyone among you wanders from the truth’ then ‘whoever brings back a sinner from wandering . . . will cover a multitude of sins’.