TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B – September 23, 2018

A reading from the Book of Wisdom 2:12, 17-20
A reading from the Letter of James 3:16-43
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 9:30-37

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

From time to time we must be reminded that the call to discipleship is counter cultural. This Sunday’s readings confront us and give us an opportunity to examine our consciences so that we can see how authentic our response to that call is.  The readings will give also those one their journey toward Baptism and their commitment to discipleship the opportunity to ask themselves if what Jesus holds up, as the model of discipleship is the life they want to embrace.

 

What is so counter-cultural about being Jesus’ disciple?  Think for a moment about what we put before children as an incentive to pursue excellence in their studies.  Are not they challenged to strive to be the best in their class so that they will be able to go to the best schools, and, upon graduation, secure the best jobs in firms so that they can climb the corporate ladder and, arriving at the top, be Number One again?  Of course there will also be ample financial remunerations that will allow them to live in splendid mansions, to drive the finest cars, to have servants to tend to their every need, and on and on, and so have the best this world has to offer.  Why they could even be president of the United States if they want it bad enough. Do we not call all that realizing the American Dream?

 

Granted, there are those in the Mega Churches who preach the Gospel of opulence. Come to Jesus and you will be wealthy and successful, all this as a sign of God’s love for you.  And, of course, you must realize that the poor are poor because they are not in God’s favor.

 

Bring those lofty goals to Jesus.  Dare to ask what he would say about them.  You might be startled at what you find – especially if position, power, and wealth are motivating factors in your life, the carrots dangling before you as incentives in life.  It is quite clear in this week’s readings that those are not what Jesus promises those who would be his disciples.  None was a goal he pursued.  Only the will of the Father urged him on.  And as far as the poor and the outcasts of society are concerned, these were the ones whose company he sought.  These were the ones with whom he practiced table fellowship.  These were the ones who became the source of the condemnation that lead to his crucifixion.  This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.

 

The first reading from the Book of Wisdom is used in conjunction with the Passion Narrative during Holy Week.  We hear the reading and know that the Just One rejected by the wicked is Jesus.  He is rejected precisely because his values and what he preaches are a reproach to the evildoers.  Translate that to be a confrontation by those who are in power. They have heard that the Just One relies on God who is his vindicator.  They want to take him at his word and see whether or not that vindication will come about.  Will God take care of him even if they impose a terrible death on him?

 

It is reference to that terrible death that opens the gospel.  The Son of Man is to be handed over to people and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.  This is Jesus’ second prediction of his destruction.  Last week, Peter protested the Master’s impending doom.  You remember Jesus’ response to Peter.  This week, the disciples hear the dire news and are shocked into silence.  They were afraid to question him about what they did not understand.

 

Bear in mind that there have been some extraordinary events that the disciples have witnessed.  It was not that long ago that they marveled that even the wind and the waves obey him. Remember the feeding of the five thousand?  That was impressive, too, and seemed to indicate that the long awaited Messiah was here.  These events fit with the clear and vivid picture they had in mind of what the Messiah would be like and what he would accomplish.  Then there was the matter of where they would figure in his reign.

 

Have you ever noticed that when you do not want to know something that you avoid accessing the unwanted information?  We joke about putting our heads in the sand, imitating the ostrich.  I do not know if the ostrich does that or not.  But we do when we flee from t he truth.  The disciples were afraid to question Jesus not because he would be harsh in answering their question but because they did not want to have confirmed what they feared and suspected in their minds. They did not want their dreams dashed on the shoals like the waves in a storm.

 

What follows is curious.  While the disciples did not dare question Jesus about his being killed, they were not reluctant to discuss his successor.  When Jesus is killed who will be the next to be in command?  That is the argument that occupies them on their way back home.  Good teacher that he is, when they arrive at the house in Capernaum, Jesus confronts the issue.  What were you arguing about on the way? This time they are not so much afraid as they are ashamed to answer.  Even they seem to be aware of how far such an argument takes them from the Master’s teaching.

 

Are we prepared to hear what Jesus says to the Twelve, and through them, to us?  Those who wish to be first shall be the last of all and the servant of all.  While it has not always been the case, with Francis we can see that is why the pope is called the servant of the servants of God.  In other words, the higher one climbs in the hierarchy of the church, the more obligations of service that one incurs.  And nothing is said about reward.

 

Again, good teacher that he is, Jesus uses an example to flesh out his imagery.  We can get all dewy-eyed at the thought of the child placed in the midst of the Apostles.  We cherish children and see the hope for our future in them.  That was not so in Jesus’ time.  Children had no rights.  They had no legal status and could do little on their own.  They were the epitome of vulnerable.  Make no mistake about it.  If we are called to discipleship we care called to service, not position, not power, and not wealth.  In fact, each of those three will thwart effective discipleship.

 

Who has primacy in terms of importance in the community?  The child.  After all, if you receive one child such as this in my name, you receive me; and if you receive me, you receive not me but the One who sent me. Be careful who dazzles you.  Be careful over whom you fawn.  That may be the biggest indicator of how far you are from being the disciple Jesus has in mind – or how close.  The same can be said for what you aspire to and why.

 

All of this says much about what the parish should be like and what people, especially the least significant people, should experience as they enter there.  First of all, the parishioners’ experience ought to be one of having their priesthood as the baptized empowered.  Each of the baptized, from the youngest to the eldest, from the strongest to the most infirm, from the wealthiest to the poorest, has a capacity for ministry.  That does not mean that all have the same ministry.  It means each has a call to ministry in keeping with the God-given gifts and talents that one has for ministering.  Not all should be lectors.  Not all should be singers.  Not all should be greeters, or ushers, or extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. But in every parish there are enough with those various talents to fill those various ministries so that all who come among them can be ministered to.

 

In the midst of the Assembly there ought to be seating to accommodate the specific needs of the disabled so that they can be seated in the midst of the Assembly, in the midst of their families.  None ought to be made to feel embarrassed by his/her disability.  Even someone with Tourette’s syndrome or any other embarrassingdisability ought to feel loved and welcomed in the Assembly.  And there ought to be a ministry for him or her to carry out.  Praying for the needs of the Assembly is a ministry.

 

I have just received the news that Emeritus Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen has died. The years that he was the Chief Shepherd in Seattle were glory years in terms of the Gospel.  When we hear the challenges Pope Francis urges on the Episcopacy they were evident in Archbishop Hunthausen.  He came to Seattle with the vision of Vatican Council II.  He lived a simple life, unadorned by splendor.  He drove an ordinary car and lived in an ordinary dwelling.  He was an advocate for the poor.  He called for nuclear disarmament.  He allowed gay Catholic members of Dignity to celebrate liturgy in the Cathedral.  He withheld half his taxes as a protest for peace. Put all that together and you know that not everyone appreciated his witness.  He suffered the humiliation of an investigation by the Vatican and a suspension of part of his faculties as Archbishop.  In time all those were restored and he retired with full dignity. He lived the Gospel challenge that Jesus gives us in today’s gospel.  And we who were there at the time were blessed to have witnessed his pouring out of self for the Gospel.

 

That is a lot to digest, isn’t it?  If you ask who can do this, who can aspire to be nothing more than a foot-washer, the servant of all, I pray you realize that on one’s own, no one can.  But remember that this is a graced calling, something that begins with God and is empowered by the Spirit.  As you make your way in the Communion Procession toward the altar, keep reminding yourself that you can do all things in Christ who strengthens you. And eating his Flesh and drinking his Blood will be all the food you need to strengthen you for the rest of the journey.

 

Sincerely yours in Christ,

 

Didymus

 

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