FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time ( B )
Wisdom 2:12, 17-20 | Psalm 54:3-4, 5, 6 and 8 | James 3:16—4:3 | Mark 9:30-37
Each week when we gather here we renew our commitment to being disciples: to following the way of the Lord on our pilgrimage through life. On this Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time we are being reminded to not quit and keep on doing what is right and good; to let go of selfish ambition and always choose peace; and to serve first and lead last.
During China’s Boxer Rebellion of 1900, insurgents captured a mission station, blocked all the gates but one, and in front of that one gate placed a cross flat on the ground. Then the word was passed to those inside that any who trampled the cross underfoot would be permitted their freedom and life, but that any refusing would be shot. Terribly frightened, the first seven students trampled the cross under their feet and were allowed to go free. But the eighth student, a young girl, refused to commit the sacrilegious act. Kneeling beside the cross in prayer for strength, she arose and moved carefully around the cross, and went out to face the firing squad. Strengthened by her example, every one of the remaining ninety-two students followed her to the firing squad.
There are people who take delight in pushing decent individuals to the limits of their endurance. They try to demonstrate that the righteous person is no better than anyone else. In today’s first reading from the book of Wisdom, prominent men in Alexandria, Egypt had rejected their Jewish faith and embraced different schools of philosophy, mystery religions, astrology, advances in science, and popular cults. The virtuous man wrote to his fellow Jews, whose faith was shaken by the lawlessness of the apostates to defend Judaism. The wicked who are irritated by his silent protest conspire to curse, torture and kill him. After all, the wicked claimed, the just man said God would take care of him. They cannot corrupt him so they try to get rid of him instead. But think about this. Two thousand years before you were born, God knew you would be reading this today, and his message to you is simple: Don’t give up. Keep on doing what is right and good.
It was Timothy James McVeigh who thought of himself first. On his own, he decided that he had the right to plant a bomb at a government building in Oklahoma City in 1995. That act killed 168 people and injured more than 680 others, including a number of children whom McVeigh callously described as collateral damage. He died self-centered and self absorbed and never showed any remorse at all. He was executed by lethal injection on June 11, 2001. McVeigh chose William Ernest Henley's poem "Invictus" as his final statement which concludes with the lines: "I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul."
“Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from?” James asks this timeless question in this weekend’s Second reading. He rebukes his parishioners for jealousy, selfish ambition, disorder, every foul practice, greed, murder, envy, fighting, insincerity, and unreliability. The conflicts James discusses were not caused by outside forces, but came from the hearts of the believers ruled by distorted desires. Hence he reminds us of the importance of praying for our needs, and not for things that will cause us to indulge in selfish desires. Earthly ambitions produce earthly results. The pursuit of pleasure, and the related pursuit of power and greatness, destroys the pleasure seeker’s heart, and the community. James exhorts the Christians to seek the wisdom from God, focused on peace, and not on the competitiveness that provokes conflict.
Ludovico Ang, billionaire tycoon, was visiting a church and was asked to give his testimony. He said, “I have a fine family, twenty large mansions, a successful business empire of ten companies and a good reputation. I have plenty of money so I can support some ministries and outreach program very generously. Various universities and organizations want me on their board of directors. I have good health and almost unlimited opportunities. What more could I ask from God?” As he paused for effect, a voice shouted from the back of the auditorium, “How about asking Him for a good dose of humility?”
“What are you guys whispering about?” Jesus asks his disciples in the Gospel. They seem not to have heard anything Jesus has said. Having arrived at Capernaum, Jesus and his disciples enter a house. In this private place, Jesus asks them, "What were you talking about on the way?" Silence. They did not answer. Actually, they had been arguing about who was the greatest. They had just finished a major gig and the crowds had been bigger than they could have imagined, thousands. Jesus, Nazorean-carpenter-turned-prophet is becoming more and more popular, and they were his disciples. They are the biggest thing since Moses. They were hot. The people loved them. They were rock stars! Jesus sets them straight by asking them to reevaluate what really is big. Jesus then calls all the disciples together. He sits down, takes a little child, and places the child in their midst, in the center of the whole group. Putting his arms around the child, Jesus said to the disciples, “This is me. You want to do something big? Serve this little child. That is big.” We work hard to make it big. We judge our worth by how great our income is, how large our houses are, how much is our car worth, and what big name is branded on our clothes. Like the disciples, we lose track of what really is big. Quality, not quantity, matters most in the kingdom of God. In this kingdom, the first places are reserved for those who make themselves last. The masters in this Kingdom are the ones who serve. It is no wonder that Saint Oscar Romero taught, "Aspire not to have more, but to be more." <enrique,ofs>
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum