26th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
There are two birds associated with the Holy Spirit. We are all familiar with the dove, ancient Christian art often uses another representation, a wild goose. Those are two very different images. The hovering of the dove is a peaceful and abiding presence, but the wild goose is something else. It speaks of the unpredictability of the Spirit that may be chased, but is rarely caught.
The first reading speaks of the goosiness of the Spirit. A portion of the spirit that enlivened Moses is to be shared with seventy-two people as a cloud descends upon them. Two people do not show up. What they could have been doing that was more important than receiving the spirit from a holy cloud, I have no idea. But it turns out they are prophesying just as the others who were present. Joshua asks if they should be stopped. Moses refuses to silence them. “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets!”
That is a daring thing to say. Prophets are needed, immeasurably important to our church and the world. But they are also problematic. They are obsessed with the truth. They are persistent and frankly inconvenient. If you want prophets, you will not escape the truth.
So it is understandable that prophets are sometimes resisted. The Church is to express the Holy Spirit, not contain it. However, it is not surprising that sometimes those in power do not want to have such a nuisance as this wild goose of a spirit. You might think that is because we are big and an institution. And we are. But even when the church was as primitive as it could be, when it was just Jesus and his disciples roaming the Galilean countryside, there was tension. A man using Jesus’ name has successfully expelled demons but he is not one of their company and John suggests they stop him. Jesus, who was famously anti-demon, does not intervene, arguing, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” He knows his name when evoked with the Gospel has power and he will not squelch the fire.
That same Holy Spirit lives within you and it produces prophets everywhere. Oh my God do we need prophets. Our Church needs prophets who will speak truth to power, who will set a new vision that heeds the voice of the faithful. And if it appears the ears of the Church are stopped, then shout louder, sing more bravely a new harmony. Our politics need prophets of conciliation and understanding who oppose the screeds of those who care only for leverage and power. We need prophecy in our relationships for without the Spirit, how would we dare to say “I love you” and how would we dare to say a challenging truth to prove that love. We have been dipped in holiness. We were made to be prophets.
But maybe you are thinking that is not me. I get it. When I first thought God might be calling me to priesthood, I was fully aware of all the reasons I should not be a priest. I mean fully aware. But ultimately I trusted in the Spirit. I remember my first time I baptized a child. It was Mark and Marianne’s daughter Emma, and my friends Diana and Fred were there with their first child and I was nervous. Who wants to mess up their first baptism? At the end I asked Fred how I did and he said it was surreal. “It was like Marianne and Mark were pretending to be parents, and we were too and you were pretending to be a priest… and they were all letting us get away with it.”
That feeling never leaves you. How many times have you looked at the board in your classroom and think, “I will never learn this,” yet somehow you master it? How many times have you felt overwhelmed by your job and think you could not handle it, but you do? Did you really feel qualified when you brought you child home the first time? Life seems to call us to grab on to the tail of this wild goose and let it lead us. There is a gap between what we expect of ourselves and what we can really achieve. That gap is filled by grace; it is filed by the Holy Spirit.
We are the confident and blessed people of God. The cloud of holiness did not miss us. Only you have your particular experience, only you know how God’s love has shaped you. You are an unrepeatable miracle and no voice can replace your voice. Only you can tell the story of the Gospel in your life. Only you can be the Gospel in the life of others. “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets!”