We keep worrying about the same things. Who’s on the list? (Are we? Are they??) Why wasn’t so-and-so there? Moses summoned seventy elite elders to the tent of meeting for a special anointing from the Lord. Eldad and Medad were registered.
But they didn’t show up. They were back in the camp. Perhaps tending wives and family. Or caring for the sick and elderly. The text does not explain why. Only that they were not with their fellow leaders, circled up to receive a dose the Spirit. They missed out because they weren’t where they were supposed to be.
Except that’s not what happened. The assembled seventy (minus two) elders began prophesying. And then the report came in. Eldad and Medad were prophesying back in the camp.
And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” Numbers 11:28-29 (NRSV)
I am fascinated by Moses’ insight into Joshua’s motivation. How human that inclination is. We’ve got something special here. Protect it. Eldad and Medad were on the list, but they didn’t follow directions. They should have been disqualified. But they weren’t. Instead the Spirit spread from the tent to the camp, beyond the boundaries of what seemed appropriate, so that even those left behind could hear.
Jesus probes deeper into our concern about the inner circle. That’s what the disciples were arguing about. If Christians had to vote among the disciples, I think Peter and John would be neck and neck for the top spot. So perhaps we should not be surprised (though I was) that John is concerned about who’s in and who’s out.
John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.” Mark 9:38(CEB)
Stop them. If they aren’t following us, they can’t be doing the work of God; we are the ones doing God’s work! Those other folks can’t be doing it right. If they were, they’d be here with us. In the right place at the right time. Not off doing their own thing. But whose thing is it?
But Jesus replied, “Don’t stop him, because whoever isn’t against you is for you.” Luke 9:50(CEB)
When both Mark and Luke relate this story, it follows closely on discussions about who is the greatest. The elders and disciples have circled up. Who is in the inner circle? Who is at the top of the list? Jesus knows what they have been arguing about, even if they don’t want to admit it.
Jesus reached for a little child, placed him among the Twelve, and embraced him. Then he said, “Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me isn’t actually welcoming me but rather the one who sent me.” Mark 9:36-37(CEB)
Where do we imagine ourselves in these stories? Perhaps we are among the 68 who showed up at the right place at the right time. Maybe we are the ones keeping the list, checking off names. Or do we see ourselves as outside, or late to the party, who couldn’t quite manage to follow the directions? Are we Joshua or John, protecting the Lord’s anointed, trying to limit the Spirit’s scope? Maybe we are just realizing that the point of being chosen is to welcome others. And that our understanding of greatness is upside down.
The Spirit keeps expanding. Anointing those who seem to be outside our circle. May we not be jealous, on our own or others’ behalf. May we rejoice in the Spirit spreading beyond our expectation. May we count others as for us, and us for them, in doing the Lord’s work. May we welcome those we haven’t noticed before. Perhaps they are standing just outside our circle. May we recognize the Lord’s embrace when he sets them among us. May our eyes be open to an entirely different order of greatness.