Biblical archaeologist Robert North often encouraged his doctoral students to read at least one book a day on Scripture. "But of course," he smilingly assured us, "I don't expect you to read it cover to cover. By now you know enough about the Bible that you aren't going to discover much new in any one book. The main thing you're going to learn is how the author organizes the material you already know."

Father North's comment about "organizing the material" applies to more than Scripture. We order everything which breaks into our existence. We're constantly squeezing reality into mental patterns and structures, patterns and structures which we created before we encountered the reality. That's why two people experiencing the same set of circumstances can come away with two completely different impressions. Though our senses see or hear the same thing, our minds organize the material differently.

How we see

Because of those differences, we face problems when we attempt to put order into God working in our lives. In Sunday's second reading, for instance, James has a different "ordering" for wealth than others in his community (James 5:1-6). Instead of grouping the individual parts into a pattern in which God rewards us for our good personality and behavior by making us rich, James' mind structures wealth into something bad.

"You rich," he warns, "weep and wail over your impending miseries." Because he sees wealth as a blindfold which impedes us from seeing the needs of others, he first indicts the wealthy for "withholding the wages of the farmhands who harvested your fields," and then denounces them for "condemning and killing the just person."

The early Christian authors give us more than one acceptable opinion about wealth. Some, like James, find no good in riches. Others, including Paul, believe riches, when used for good purposes can be a blessing. Luke has Jesus proclaim, "Blessed are the poor!" while Matthew, in the same context, quotes Him as saying, "Blessed are the poor in spirit!" A big difference. Yet such diverse forms of organizing the concept of wealth were permitted in primitive Christian communities.

This leads to the question: Is there anything in Scripture which can't be organized in different, but acceptable, patterns? The response is not only yes, but that we actually find one of these inflexible concepts in Sunday's first and third readings: We can never confine God and God's actions into any of our ordering patterns.

Let God work

Moses makes certain that Joshua understands this unchangeable truth before he succeeds Moses as leader of Israel (Nu 11:25-29). Joshua is very disturbed because Eldad and Medad, who were not present when Yahweh's spirit formally came upon the Jewish elders, are now going round the camp prophesying like the other sixty-eight who took part in the official ceremony. He pleads, "Moses, my lord, stop them." If Moses can't determine the conditions for someone receiving Yahweh's spirit, Moses must not have real authority.

Moses' response is refreshing. "Are you jealous for my sake?" he asks Joshua. "Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow His spirit on them all!" In other words, God should always be free to work in our lives as God wishes, not as we determine.
Jesus finds Himself facing a parallel situation when one of the Twelve, John, announces, "Teacher, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we tried to stop him because he is not of our company" (Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48).

Instead of complimenting His follower for his diligence in keeping right order, Jesus surprises John by saying, "Don't do that!" "Anyone who is not against us is with us," Jesus points out. Even those who are outside our "system" can achieve the same things which we created our system to accomplish. If we limit our faith vision to just those actions which are done according to our acceptable pattern, we'll miss most of what God is doing in our midst.

No matter how we order reality, people of faith always order with an open mind. Our goal is to see as God sees, to act as God acts. We start such a quest only by "re-ordering" the very minds which try to impose order on God.

(09-25-97)