Twenty Fifth Sunday: September 20, 2009

Wisdom 2:12,17-20; James 3:16-4:3; Mark 9:30-37

In today’s Gospel  Jesus says: “whoever wants to be first must be last of all and the servant of all.”  This statement of Jesus is indeed a puzzling one for us like several of the utterances he places before the disciples.  They all go against the call of the world such as to be held in esteem, to have the power and to bask in honour and glory.  Jesus calls us to serve, to remain humble and to be at the disposal of God and others.  However these statements invite us into God’s life in a particular way.  The early Christian hymn in the letter to the Philippians talks about how Jesus emptied himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. In response God exalted him and raised him above all creation.  This hymn describes the dynamic that is at the heart of life in the trinity: each person of God is constantly pouring out the divine self in love and service to the other persons.  Each person is welcoming the other and makes room for the other in the outpouring of love.  Even in our life as Christians we are incorporated in the self-emptying life of  love of God in Baptism.  We are part of that dynamics and yet we have to make effort in the self  emptying call that Jesus gives us constantly where we are to lose our life in order to find it.  Only when we  empty ourselves can we really go ahead to the Trinity and move towards the fullness of the glory of God.

We heard the three readings today. All the three Readings have one common denominator: They all speak of wisdom that is divine and the human expectations demanding to excel over others. In our normal life situations there is a paradox of human living, namely, the hatred that the good person engenders. It is put so well in the First Reading: “Let us lie in wait for the virtuous man.” Why? “Because he annoys us and opposes our way of life, reproaches us for our breaches of the law and accuses us of playing false to our upbringing.” They wait for the righteous one, to test Him with insults and torture to find out how gentle he is likely to be. They want to make the life of the righteous persons intolerable and more difficult. They want to make the lives of just very inconvenient, oppose their actions and reproach them of their sins against the law and thus condemn them to a shameful death. But something they failed to realize. While the godless ones applied human wisdom in the planning of their evil deeds, they failed to notice that human knowledge and understanding cannot compete against the Wisdom of God. As St Paul in fact tells the Corinthians “The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”  And “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”  The author then speaks of the triumph of wisdom. If one seeks human wisdom, he needs knowledge and understanding. By studying, one gains knowledge. and reaches understanding. With understanding, one achieves human wisdom.  But what is important is the spiritual wisdom which is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual knowledge and understanding cannot be obtained unless one is enlightened by the Holy Spirit by the grace of God. Spiritual wisdom is beyond the reach of the godless, the foolish and the proud.

The Second reading taken from St James tells us,  where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. Those conflicts and disputes, where do they come from?  We do not know. Certainly they are  not from above. It is generally understood that Human wisdom leads us to covet something and when we cannot obtain it we engage in disputes and conflicts.  Spiritual wisdom leads to holiness. It is pure and from above. It is peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality of hypocrisy. James then adds to say that if we ask we will get it and often we do not get what we ask because we do not ask properly. Today, we need to pray above all for that spirit of service, for that deep down attitude of reaching out and wanting the well being of those around us, no matter who they are or what kind of people they are. We are sure that is a prayer that will be answered: it is a prayer that will bring us closer to God and to every other person and result in our own enrichment.

In today’s Gospel Reading, we heard that when Jesus was teaching the disciples, He told them that the Son of Man was to be betrayed into human hands, that they would kill Him and three days later, He would rise again. The disciples did not understand what Jesus was talking about. This is because their human wisdom did not have the necessary knowledge and understanding to perceive what Jesus was talking about. Nor did their spiritual wisdom have the knowledge and understanding to perceive the death and resurrection of the Lord that was quickly approaching. These words had to be spoken so they would be understood at a later time when Jesus would say, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you – that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”

Jesus and his disciples were making their way through the northern province of Galilee quietly that he did not want people to know where they were going.  It looks as if Jesus wants to have more time with his disciples.  Here he reminds the disciples a second time what is going to happen to him. He tells them that he will be handed over into the hands of men who will put him to death and that he will rise again on the third day. We recollect how for the first time Jesus told them of his passion and death,  Peter reacted very strongly and Jesus reacted more strongly still. This time they are more cautious. They still did not understand what he meant by these words. They did accept that Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed King of Israel. Further they have seen all that he has been doing: the miracles of healing the sick, bringing sinful people back to God, liberating people from evil powers. They also heard his teaching. He could attract crowds to him yet was very critical of in authority for their behaviour.

During his life Jesus challenged many people and sometimes annoyed them, thus opposing  their way of life and for being untrue to the real meaning of their traditions, of worshipping only with their lips  with their hearts far from God. Soon people turned against him and planned his death. His gentleness and endurance and his love for us were proved beyond doubt. And he was looked after though not in the way they anticipated. He was allowed to drink the cup of suffering and dying a most awful death. Now when he repeatedly explains of his passion, even though they had seen the challenge to him, they fail to understand the real situation. He tells them that he will be “delivered” or “handed over”, a theme word running through the New Testament. John the Baptist was “handed over” to Herod to be executed. Jesus was handed over by Judas to his fellow-Jews. They, in turn, handed him over to the Romans they hated. Later, the disciples themselves will be handed over to kings and rulers. And, in every Eucharist, the Body of Jesus is handed over for us to break and share together.

The Gospel tells us that Jesus and his group arrived at Capernaum in Galilee. While they were in the “house” he asked them about their topic of conversation. This “house” mentioned may mean their meeting place or their place of residence.  Perhaps it was the place where Jesus gathered those close to him as the church gathers people in the name of Jesus. He was questioned them on the topic of their discussion of which they were highly embarrassed. They could hardly say, “Well, since you are going to be killed in the near future, we were wondering which of us should take over your place.” Jesus was fully aware of  all that was going on in their minds. He sat down and spoke just to the Twelve, his close friends and told them the type of leadership his followers ought to have. “If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.” Once again he throws an idea at them which is in total contradiction to everything they had ever been told. The type of authority will be of a new type never experienced by any one. He told them that true greatness is in being the servant or slave of all. The authority in his house has to be one of giving and of service. At this point Jesus pulls in a young child and puts him standing in the middle of the group. “Anyone who welcomes one of these children in my name, welcomes me.”

The child here pictured by Jesus represents a person who has no power, no say, no influence; a person who can easily be controlled, abused or neglected and who has little redress. At the same time, a child has novelty and vision. It sees all things afresh. It has the sense of joy and admiration. It loves without reservation. Above all it is humble, helpless and very vulnerable.  The child represents all those in our society who are powerless and easily manipulated, who are easily abused, neglected and marginalised. The poor, the sick, the disabled, the elderly, the immigrant…Today, in the light of all our readings, we need to pray above all for that spirit of service, for that deep down attitude of reaching out and wanting the well being of those around us, no matter who they are or what kind of people they are.  It is a prayer that will bring us closer to God and to every other person and result in our own enrichment. Let us call upon the Lord Almighty, asking Him with a sincerity of heart for the gift of Wisdom.

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