Clergy: Remember Eldad and Medad!

Dan chose a great set of Lessons from the Bible for this service! Each one has something unique to say to us about the occasion we’re celebrating here today – Dan’s ordination to the priesthood and the ministry he shares here with all of you atSt. Pauland the Redeemer. We usually start with the Gospel for the day because Christians read the whole Bible through the lens of Jesus and his life and ministry and teaching.

 Today, Matthew tells us that “Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.” (Mt. 9:35). Clearly, priests are to follow that pattern, set out for us by our High Priest, Jesus. Priests (primarily because we have the benefit of a theological education and, hopefully, time to read and reflect on the Bible and theology and what God may be up to in our world today) priests have a rabbinical, or teaching, role in the congregation. One teacher among many, hopefully.

 Priests are also preachers, proclaimers. And what we are to proclaim, according to Matthew, is “the good news of the kingdom.” That means the incredible message that God is in charge of this world…and that we are not! And that our task is to work and pray and give so that this world may begin to look a little more like God’s Kingdom, God’s Realm until, one day, it will be established in its fullness – in God’s time, not ours.

And, priests are healers. Not just when they pray for the sick or anoint us with the oil of unction, but as they gather the community, as they seek to reconcile differences (within the church and within the wider community), as they preside at the Sacraments of the New Covenant which mark and celebrate major turning points in our lives. Priests are to be healers.

 Matthew goes on to tell us that, when Jesus saw the crowds he had compassion on them “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mt. 9:36). Now, there are surely problems with the sheep and shepherd image. You are not sheep, blindly following your shepherd to find good pasturage. You are young people and adult human beings who have your own responsibilities and leadership in this church of ours. But, to the extent that a shepherd keeps his or her eyes out for the lost sheep, cares deeply for them, and is willing to take risks to make sure the sheep are fed, then clergy have a “shepherding” function. And clearly, a priest without “a shepherd’s compassion” will not serve the church….or the world…very well.

 Finally, Matthew quotes Jesus as saying that “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Mt. 9:37-38). That’s sort of what we’re doing here this afternoon. We’re asking the Lord of the harvest to bless and empower Dan and to strengthen him in his work of “bringing in the harvest.” (Pause) But I need to remind you (and him) that one of the dangers of using our High Priest, Jesus, as a model for our own priesthood, is that – the last time I checked – none of us are Jesus Christ!

 More clergy than I like to think about have burned themselves out by not getting that fact straight from the get-go! Priests are not Jesus. The Body of Christ, the Church, is Jesus. Or, at least his hands and feet in the world today. And that’s what the author of the Letter to the Ephesians was reminding us of. He writes, “But EACH of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” (Ephesians 4:7)

 And then, he goes on to list examples of the kind of gifts and ministries that he found in that little church in Ephesus and which I bet you can find right here at St. Paul and the Redeemer – “apostles (those who are sent); prophets (those who “tell forth” God’s challenging word); evangelists (people full of good news); pastors (those who care for and tend others); and teachers (those who pass on the faith to this generation and to the next). The priest’s role is not to DO all those ministries, but to identify them and encourage them and bless them in the lives of others so that – as Ephesians says – “…the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:16)

 At our best, we have always known that “ministry” is not a lone ranger’s occupation. Ministry is done by a community of God’s people. That insight stretches all the way back to the Hebrew Scriptures and the book of Numbers which tells us that God instructed Moses to identify seventy “elders of the people” and to have them take their place alongside Moses in the Tent of Meeting. “I will come down,” God says, “and talk with you there; and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you…” (Numbers 11:15-17).

 So, Moses learns something about shared ministry and he even learns that others in the community beside himself can be “prophetic.”  The compilers of our lectionary, however, left out what I think is the best part of this story. Right after the 70 “chosen ones” begin to prophesy, we are told (in verses 26-29) that two others remained in the camp. For some reason, Eldad and Medad did not go out to the Tent of Meeting. Yet, somehow God’s Spirit fell on these two as well…and they also began speaking prophetic words.

 Moses’ right hand man, Joshua, finds out about that and says “Moses, stop them.” But Moses replies “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 (all).” (Numbers11:29) I love Eldad and Medad! They were non-conformists who stood outside the “holy place,” outside the tent of meeting – and yet God spoke through them as surely as through Moses and his “in group.”

 So, Dan, welcome to your role as teacher, preacher, healer, and, yes, even shepherd to this congregation. But remember, it is not up to you and your ordained colleagues alone. In fact, it will not be healthy for you or the community if you make that mistake. Remember that you are surrounded by other apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastors and teachers in this congregation. Rejoice in that fact and see yourself as one minister among many in this place. Work to makeSt. Pauland the Redeemer, not a community gathered around a minister, but a ministering community.

Welcome the fact that God’s prophetic work is carried out by all members of this community. But in doing that, don’t forget Eldad and Medad. Don’t forget that there are voices outside this beautiful “tent of meeting” who are speaking God’s word as powerfully to the church and to the world as you are. Remember that Moses’ prayer has now been fulfilled: “All God’s people ARE prophets…and the LordHASput his spirit on them all!”







2 Responses to “Clergy: Remember Eldad and Medad!”

  1. Marlin Whitmer Says:

    Thank you Chris and Dan for the Eldad and Medad reference. This is long but I hope you find it worth it. I found it worthwhile a few years back.

    Numbers 11 is a favorite passage of mine. Here are some of my reflections from the Scripture and Daily Life Serve list over the years.

    Numbers 11 and Exodus 18 seem to be complementary. My own guessing with some support from the scholars, Numbers is the work of the Priestly compilers in Exile while Exodus 18 is done by the Scribes using the J and E sources. Those in Exile were nice enough to include both. Jethro is not kosher for the Priestly writers since he is a Mideanite Priest. Even though he is Moses’ father in law, that doesn’t count. In different ways both espouse a participator management approach. All are involved in some capacity for the common good of all. With Exodus you have the small group approach from the bottom up. With Numbers you have all sharing in the Spirit of prophecy whether in the inner circle or not. Numbers reminds me to pay attention to those on the margins as well as the center.

    The names Eldad and Medad provide a study in themselves. The two received the Spirit of Prophecy outside the Tent of Meeting. Joshua operates the “stern legalistic parent” and we have Moses serving as the “nurturing leader.” His concluding question, notice it is a question, “Would that all the children of Israel had the Spirit of Prophecy?” Another puzzlement.

    Now finding the meaning of these names has not been easy. It is not given in the text. Eldad is not difficult to find in most commentaries. “God loves.” The meaning of Medad has been more difficult. I am not giving you the details but I have searched and guessed for some time. Even several Rabbi’s were not all that helpful. Dr. Ellen Davis, Old Testament professor from Virginia Seminary sent me some Xeroxed pages from a Jewish commentary on Numbers containing the definition. And it helped me see that my own attempts were going in the wrong direction. This is also why Bible study requires continuing discipline to stay with the text plus consultation with people who work at this full time. Medad means “loved by God” or “beloved of God.” “God loves” and “loved by God.” Moses knows he is not in charge of that! And believe it or not there are some people who would like to take charge of that. I am reminded of a verse in the English Hymn, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy.” The verse reads, “We make his love to narrow by false limits of our own.” The verse in only in the English version.

    Marlin Whitmer

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