Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading Wisdom of Solomon 2:12, 17–20
Psalm Psalm 54:3–8
Second Reading James 3:16–4:3
Gospel Mark 9:30–37
Save me, O God, by your name,
and vindicate me by your might.
Hear my prayer, O God;
give ear to the words of my mouth.
For the insolent have risen against me,
the ruthless seek my life;
they do not set God before them.
But surely, God is my helper;
the Lord is the upholder of my life.
He will repay my enemies for their evil.
In your faithfulness, put an end to them.
With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you;
I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good.
Reading the Word
Wisdom of Solomon 2:12, 17–20
“Let us lie in wait for the righteous man,
because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions;
he reproaches us for sins against the law,
and accuses us of sins against our training.
Let us see if his words are true,
and let us test what will happen at the end of his life;
for if the righteous man is God’s child, he will help him,
and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries.
Let us test him with insult and torture,
so that we may find out how gentle he is,
and make trial of his forbearance.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death,
for, according to what he says, he will be protected.”
For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. and a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.
Jesus and his disciples went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Hearing the Word
“Craving for Greatness”
Even devout Christians may suffer from exposure to the damaging effects of craving for greatness. Today’s liturgy focuses on this theme, with warnings about false greatness, and pointers to indicate where true greatnesslies.
The book of Wisdom was written for the Jewish community in Alexandria. At the time, this city was the heart of the Greek world, famed for its wealth and learning. Many of the Jewish people who lived there, were so impressed by the Greek culture, that they saw the Jewish way of life, based on the law, as primitive, and outdated. Consequently, they adopted the Greek lifestyle. Other Jews advocated strict adherence to the Jewish ways, to maintain their uniqueness and identity as God’s people. This caused tensions and conflicts in the Jewish community. The Jews who were faithful to their upbringing and the law, apparently criticised those who, “sinned against the law and against their training”, accusing them of betraying their faith and heritage. This second group responded, with attempts to demonstrate that the Jewish ways and beliefs were false, and based on superstition. To prove their point, they planned to put both God, and the righteous ones, to the test, by inflicting suffering, torture, and even death on the faithful ones, to see whether God would intervene on their behalf. If God did not act, it would prove to everyone, that the claim, that God protects the righteous, is false. Furthermore, if God is proven false, and the righteous succumbs to the persecution, it would justify their own renunciation of the Jewish way of life. We have here two opposing groups, each striving to be proved right. The group of the righteous seeks greatness by their adherence to God and his law. The group of the Greek sympathizers seeks to be proved right by showing the other group to be wrong. Both seek importance, recognition and greatness, but they pursue these in two very different ways. One group seeking greatness by living a righteous life, the other seeking greatness by challenging and undermining the firstgroup.
In the second reading James also deals with a divided community, disrupted by envy and the selfish ambitions of its members. Both these vices grow out of a misguided desire to be greater than others. James contrasts envy and ambition with God’s wisdom. Wisdom manifests itself in numerous positive ways, which the author lists. However, the greatest fruit of divine wisdom is peace. Personal righteousness thrives in a situation of peace, and leads to peace.
The conflicts James discusses, were not caused by outside forces, but came from the hearts of the believers ruled by distorted desires. The Greek word for desire is the same as the word for pleasure, which implies the pursuit of enjoyment, and self-indulgent enjoyment for its own sake. Such desires are disorderly because they constantly change. A person ruled by desires behaves erratically, and exists in a state of internal “war”. To satisfy these desires the person seeks a position of privilege, which leads them to strive for power, authority, praise, and recognition. This naturally leads to disputes, conflicts, and, in extreme situations, even to murder.
Such chaos destroys the spiritual life. Some people driven by distorted desires stop relying on God altogether. They “do not ask”, but try to seize what they crave, by their own cunning. Others pray, and ask, but they “ask wrongly”, seeking only benefits that would enhance and increase their self-satisfaction. Naturally, God does not grant such self-indulgent requests. 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.
The Gospel reading combines two distinctive passages which brilliantly portray two types of greatness. In the first part Jesus makes his second passion prediction. He teaches the disciples about his commitment to carry out his mission to the point of being killed on the cross. The disciples neither understand, nor seek explanation of this teaching. The reason for their indifference becomes obvious, in the passage thatfollows.
Jesus and the disciples have arrived in Capernaum. Most of the disciples were from this town; they came home. On the way, they were arguing who among them was the greatest. We might speculate that as they approached their hometown they wanted to establish who has had the greatest success. Surely, they intended to boast about their accomplishments to their friends and family. This means, that as Jesus was talking about his self-sacrifice, they were bickering about rank and importance. Withoutexplicitly criticizing them, Jesus uses this shameful incident to teach them about true greatness.
First, greatnessmeans service. Such a view turns the entire social order of the day on its head. Greatness, in the view of the disciples, and of the society in which they lived, meant being served, not serving. Second, discipleship requires “welcoming children”. Again, such a statement turns the social order upside down. Children, like servants, had the lowest social status. They had no rights. Their lives depended entirely on the choices and decisions made by their fathers. They were the last to be fed, and could be freely given away by the parents as servants or slaves. Welcoming a child meant extending one’s care to those who were not formally entitled to it. Jesus teaches that true greatness consists in protecting, and uplifting, those who have no one to rely upon. The disciples’ quest for greatness was utterly misguided, as they sought to establish a hierarchy of importance in their little group. But true greatness in the kingdom implies self-sacrifice, service, and concern for the life of others, rather than self-aggrandizement.
The message oftoday’s readings makes the Christian keenly aware of the dangers embedded, in a very natural human desire for self-importance and greatness. Striving for a superior position in a community, and in a society, often has disastrous consequences. As in the Jewish community of Alexandria, it can lead to acts of violence and persecution in an attempt to assert one’s correctness, and to justify one’s life choices. The pursuit of pleasure and gratification can lead to a state of internal chaos, destroying a community in the process. James was keenly aware of this danger and advocated striving for peace through wisdom. The disciples of Jesus completely misunderstand their master. As he spoke about self-sacrifice, they competed for the highest rank in their little group. Jesus shattered their misconceptions, indicating that true greatness consists in self-giving service and focuses on sustaining one’s fellow human beings, particularly those in need. Those who can comprehend and accept this teaching can achieve true greatness, and, with the psalmist, they will be able to say, “God is my helper; the Lord is the upholderof my life”.
Listening to the Word of God
We all crave for something, usually for that which brings us pleasure and comfort. Someone once said, “life is too short, scoop it with a big spoon, because you might not have the opportunity again”. We all want to get the best out of life. Everyone wants to be at the top of their game, their career or their calling.
Is it wrong to crave for a good life?Surely, it is not wrong to crave for a better life? But a deep look into our cravings is needed, because often we crave for what, in reality, are just our own selfish interests. We think only of the “I” and not of the “we”, only of the “mine” and not the “ours”. When our craving is all about the “I” then we can easily get lost in the ocean of selfishness, putting our desires first at the expense of everything and everyone. We use others to get what we want, and, at that point, we can be driven to doing illegal things. Some, to find wealth think, “since I want to be very rich, I wouldn't mind selling drugs to gain more cash, even if my customers will lose their minds after using them”. All that is important to me is that I get what I want, even if the earth stopsspinning.
St James invites us to a deeperreflection on our lives as Christians, as a part of the Christian community. For Christians there are values of other-centeredness, and broad concern for others, which we must pursue if we are really to behave as God’s children, and as members of Christ’s body. Our craving for greatness at work, at school, and in relationships, can lead to behaviour that contradicts our Christian identity. Such acts might include exaggerated competitiveness, egoism, slander, gossiping and deceit. When we focus only on our own desires, then the result is a partial commitment within the community, hypocrisy of all kinds, discord, and even harming one another, which shows the extent to which our selfish cravings can negatively affect the community.
Our cravingscan also affect our prayer life, because we push Christ away from our life, and from the midst of the community, by not listening to him. The scripture says: “where two or three are gathered in my name I am there”. But when each one gathers in their own name, seeking personal gains and glory, we impose only our presence, and do not seek the presence of God. Hence, when we pray, our prayers are not answered, because we ask with only ourselves in mind.
A good example of the damaging effects of unbridled desire is found in today’s gospel. As Jesus speaks about his forthcoming passion, the disciples are so dominated by thoughts of their greatness, that they barely listen to him. Their dominant thoughts were not the same as those of Jesus’. They wanted greatness and position, but Jesus wanted them to see where true greatness lies. He taught them that greatness is found in humility, in service to others, and in living out one’s faith in God, through faithful commitment. This is a lesson for us. Let us not be like the disciples. Instead of thinking of what we can gain, let us think of how we can serve. Our pre-occupations may vary, but the liturgy invites us to reflect on which desires drive our lives. We are reminded to examine our prevailing thoughts and desires, and to see whether they are directed to true Christian values, whether they lead us to the path of holiness, and help us live wellin the community of God.
“Ambition begets troubles.”
What do I want most? God, authority, money, or respect from others? Or what?
How do Irelate to those whom I think are better than I am in a particular field? Do I try to bring themdown and take their place?
Response to God
I will make a daily prayer, telling God that my foremost desire is to seek his glory, and live in his ways, as revealed through Jesus, so that I might, one day, beunited with him in eternity.
Response to your World
I will examine and identify my most ardent desires, and list them. Then I will analyse this list in the light of this Sunday’s readings, to see whether these desires are in accordance with Christ’s teaching, or whether they are just myselfish cravings.
This week I will join the community of believers with a mind open and free of prejudice against anyone. I will encourage all present to share on the ways we can help each other to grow, without using each other for our own personalgain.
Save me Lord from unhealthy cravings, that pull me away from you. Teach me to live a righteous and edifying life, that I may live fully as your child, trusting in you for all my needs. Never let me bring discord or hatred amongst your children. May I always be an instrument of your peace. May my desires always be according to your will. This I ask through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Scripture quotations from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, © 1989, 1993. Used with permission.