SEPTEMBER 23RD, 2018: TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
The wicked say:
Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us;
he sets himself against our doings,
reproaches us for transgressions of the law
and charges us with violations of our training.
Let us see whether his words be true;
let us find out what will happen to him.
For if the just one be the son of God, God will defend him
and deliver him from the hand of his foes.
With revilement and torture let us put the just one to the test
that we may have proof of his gentleness
and try his patience.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death;
for according to his own words, God will take care of him.
Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist,
there is disorder and every foul practice.
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure,
then peaceable, gentle, compliant,
full of mercy and good fruits,
without inconstancy or insincerity.
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace
for those who cultivate peace.
Where do the wars
and where do the conflicts among you come from?
Is it not from your passions
that make war within your members?
You covet but do not possess.
You kill and envy but you cannot obtain;
you fight and wage war.
You do not possess because you do not ask.
You ask but do not receive,
because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee,
but he did not wish anyone to know about it.
He was teaching his disciples and telling them,
“The Son of Man is to be handed over to men
and they will kill him,
and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.”
But they did not understand the saying,
and they were afraid to question him.
They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house,
he began to ask them,
“What were you arguing about on the way?”
But they remained silent.
They had been discussing among themselves on the way
who was the greatest.
Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them,
“If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
Taking a child, he placed it in their midst,
and putting his arms around it, he said to them,
“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
and whoever receives me,
receives not me but the One who sent me.”
Today we have the second of Mark’s three prediction/misunderstanding/clarification pericopes explaining what it means to die with Jesus. (Afraid we’ll have to wait until the Twenty-ninth Sunday of the Year to learn Jesus’ third way.) Though the disciples’ misunderstanding is implicit in this narrative, we can easily reconstruct it from Jesus’ clarification. Conveniently ignoring his command to die, his followers have been arguing over who’s the group’s head high honcho.
He begins by confronting them head on. “Anyone who wishes to be first, shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Then gives them an “audio-visual:” a child. “Putting his arms around it, he says, ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.’”
Many confuse this particular “child passage” with the one in which Jesus commands we become like little children. Here, condemning church “cry-rooms,” he says we’re to accept little children, not imitate them. Those in the community, like children, who can give us practically nothing are the people we must value the highest. Given our culture, Jesus would probably go into one of our nursing homes, put his arms around an Alzheimer resident and say, “Whoever receives ….”
The main problem many people found in the historical Jesus was his aggravating habit of turning everything upside down. Because he’s convinced God is present, working effectively in everyone’s life, then our everyday life is no longer business as usual. Life hasn’t changed, but the way we approach and live it has.
The author of Wisdom encountered similar opposition centuries before Jesus’ birth. He or she ran into a parallel problem in presenting the “just one” as a person everyone should imitate. There’s simply too high a price to pay. Biblically “just” persons develop proper relationships with God and those around them. They’re more concerned with building up the advantage others experience than in selfishly looking for their own advantage. In almost every culture they’re “obnoxious” because they “set themselves against our doings.” Instead of transforming the way we live, it’s far easier to just get rid of the just persons in our midst. Dead people usually don’t give us a guilt complex.
That’s where James comes in. Obviously, the community for which he writes has little in common with the ideal, loving communities we find in the first chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. Among other vices, the author’s forced to confront “jealousy and selfish ambition” in some of the individuals reading his letter. Instead of being guided by the risen Jesus, they’ve simply given themselves over to the “passions that make war within their members.” Even if they pray, they have no idea for what to pray. Instead of being open to others, they’re trapped in their own selves.
The gospel Jesus has a community vision which he expects his followers to share; an unstratified society in which everyone is equal, no honorary titles, no one more important than anyone else. It’s evident from the “structure” of our church that we Catholics haven’t bought into Jesus’ vision. Years ago, it was fashionable to compare ourselves to General Motors or AT&T; efficient, task oriented, hierarchical structures. Some of this “formalism” changed at Vatican II, but it constantly creeps back in. A seminary classmate from Detroit mentioned that shortly after ordination he attended a clergy conference in which Cardinal Dearden, presuming the council had gotten rid of monsignors, asked for suggestions on how to reward priests who had done extraordinary work during their ministry.
Too bad that equalizing frame of mind didn’t last – in Detroit or in Belleville. From today’s gospel it’s clear it mirrored Jesus’ mentality on dying.