THEME: RECOGNIZING THE GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT
READINGS: Numbers 11:25-29 / James 5:1-6/ Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Holy Spirit has absolute freedom in distributing His gifts. How then do we recognize His gifts in others? This homily highlights a few ways by which we can recognize the Spirit’s gifts in others. It then encourages us to aid the ministry of these true servants of God.
2.0 Freedom of God’s Spirit
The Holy Spirit is divine. So, He has absolute freedom. His choices and actions, for instance, are in no way limited by our faith. Less still can our wishes, thoughts or hopes determine His choices and actions. In today’s readings, we find instances of the demonstration of the freedom of God’s Spirit. Firstly, Joshua was proved wrong when he thought that the spirit upon Moses would be bestowed on only the seventy elders at the tent of meeting; for Eldad and Medad who were not at the meeting also received the spirit (cf. Num. 11:25-29). Secondly, in the gospel reading, the Apostle John thought that only the apostles and other close companions of Jesus Christ had the gift of the Spirit to cast out demons. However, he was proved wrong, for the Spirit of the Lord acts as He wishes (cf. Mark 9:38-40).
3.0 Recognizing the Presence of the Spirit
On the one hand, God’s Spirit has absolute freedom in distributing His gifts. On the other hand, sometimes, there are misapplications or false claims of the use of His gifts. Therefore, the First Letter of St. John admonishes us: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). How, then, do we recognize or identify people who are genuinely working under the influence of God’s Spirit? There are several indications we can look out for. However, here, let us limit ourselves to three main indications: does the use of the gift bring glory to God? Does it build up the Church? And do the fruits or lives of the “man/woman of God” correspond with the Word of God?
3.1 To the glory of God
Does the use of the gift bring glory to God? A true gift of the Spirit brings glory to God. In other words, it leads the user of the gift as well as its beneficiaries to see the majesty of God or to praise His greatness. Specifically, with regard to Jesus Christ, the use of the gift inspires people to acknowledge His majesty as the Son of God. Hence, St. John writes: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (1 John 4:2). On the contrary, then, “every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (1 John 4:3). By extension, any demonstration of a spiritual gift which does not bring glory to God indicates that the gift is not from the Holy Spirit.
3.2 For the building up of the Church
According to St. Paul, the gifts of the Spirit are given for the building up of the Church, which is the Body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 12:7). The building up of the Church includes edifying individual believers or strengthening their faith and other virtues, collectively developing the spirituality, charity, service, fellowship, etc. of members. So, the man/woman of God whose preaching, teaching, healing, prophecy, etc. build up the Church may be working under the influence of the Holy Spirit. If, however, the person’s ministry does not edify believers but rather leads to decline in spirituality, charity, service and fellowship, then it is not of the Holy Spirit. Thus, Jesus warns us: “if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck” (Mark 9:42).
3.3 By their fruits you shall know them
A “man/woman of God” may inspire his audience to praise God, he/she may be apparently building up the Church, yet he/she may be a false prophet. So, what further indication should we look out for? Jesus, who is very much aware of this matter, gives us the answer: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matt. 7:15-17). So, we need to ascertain whether his/her fruit, especially his/her lifestyle, corresponds with the Word of God?
Firstly, is he/she leading a holy life? Holiness is a very good fruit of the Spirit, whereas immorality indicates the presence of evil. It is to avert the influence of evil that Jesus exhorts us to go the extra mile to sacrifice even what is very dear to us: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out” (Mark 9:43).
Secondly, this exhortation of our Lord implies that the focus of our ministry should be self-sacrifice or not selfish gains. The former is a good fruit, while the latter is a bad fruit. An instance of such a bad fruit is when a “man/woman” of God enriches him/herself at the expense of church members, especially the poor ones (cf. James 5:1-6). Beloved, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not for sale!
Whereas God’s Spirit freely chooses those He wishes to use as His instruments of blessings and salvation, we are to identify the true servants of God. This may be a daunting task in our era which is full of “men/women of God” of all shapes and shades. However, with the grace of the same Holy Spirit, we can recognize the true servants of God. Supporting the ministry of such servants goes with a reward: “I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward” (Mark 9:41). Let us, therefore, tap into the grace of God and make the effort to recognize them and support their ministry to the glory of God and for the building up of His Church. Amen!
By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis