19Sep Sunday September 19, 2021. Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sunday, September 19 2021

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

(1) Wisdom 2:12, 17-20

The cruelty of the wicked against the just

The godless say to themselves,
“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.”

Responsorial: from Psalm 54

R./: The Lord upholds my life

O God, save me by your name;
by your power, uphold my cause.
O God, hear my prayers;
listen to the words of my mouth. (R.)

For proud men have risen against me,
ruthless men seek my life.
They have no regard for God. (R.)

But I have God for my help.
The Lord upholds my life.
I will sacrifice to you with willing heart
and praise your name for it is good. (R.)

(2) James 3:16-4:3

Jealousy, ambition, and self-seeking contrasted to gentleness, mercy and peace

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 ravings 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.

Gospel: Mark 9:30-37

In light of his passion, Jesus calls them to be servants of all

Jesus and his disciples 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.”

Welcoming the Cross

The first reading today sounds like one of the Psalms that are applied to the story of Christ’s passion or like one of the Servant songs in Isaiah. But in reality it comes from one of the latest books in the Bible, composed not in Hebrew but in Greek, in Alexandria (and not contained in the original Hebrew Bible). The situation of the righteous man who is insulted, tortured, or executed is one that is not confined to special religious texts; it is a situation that arises at all times. So the passion and death of Jesus, which he predicts to his disciples for the second time today, is not in itself an extraordinary destiny.

Many people suffer worse and longer torture, detained for years in solitary confinement for example, and more painful and degrading deaths. Many are unjustly condemned and never vindicated, unlike Jesus. That Jesus dies as a martyr is again not something absolutely unique. Many people have been prepared to lay down their lives to resist injustice and oppression.What makes the passion of Christ unique is its saving role, expressed a little further on in Mark’s Gospel in words that may well come from the lips of the historical Jesus himself: “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45). Some people today find the idea of the death of Jesus as a saving sacrifice, an atonement, to be objectionable, and it is caricatured as showing a cruel God torturing his son in order to avenge himself on humankind. We need to put aside such reaction to let the message of salvation claim our hearts and our minds. Jesus’s life befits a Messiah, bringing healing and enlightenment to all. But his death brings salvation to the whole human race. God does not punish but grants healing and salvation to all by allowing his beloved Son to enter so deeply into our suffering, including the suffering people inflict on one another, and including the ultimate failure of death and dishonour. If we embrace the Messiah that God sets before us we will find also that the divine vindication of this Messiah, who is raised up from death, also becomes credible.

The minds of the disciples are completely elsewhere. The question that bothers them in their discussion is which of them will have the highest place in the Kingdom. It even gives rise to a quarrel. It is easy to laugh at them, but the laugh is on us. Called to follow Christ, we worry about tiny advantages and securities as if Christ never was. Jesus appeals to the disciples’ ambition: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Indeed Jesus often appeals to our low level of thinking to inspire us with the ambition of imitating him, who came “not to be served, but to serve” (Mk 10:45).

“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.'” Today a wave of refugees sweeps across Europe. When we welcome these children we welcome the Son of Man, who had “nowhere to lay his head” (Mt 8:20; Lk 9:58), and in welcoming him we are welcoming God back into our desiccated lives. To welcome the suffering multitudes is also to welcome the Cross, and to discover its saving power, first shown in the community of love that it creates.

Like Father, Like Son

St Mark traces the profile of Jesus as a strange and disconcerting Messiah. That is what Jesus was in reality for Peter and, as we know, Mark echoes the catechesis of Peter and his itinerary of discovery of the Messiah. The emphasis throughout is on the newness and originality of Jesus in the context of human history. He is on an entirely different level compared with the traditional teaching of the Scribes and Rabbis, and, even, the Law itself, because of the sublimity of his message. Beside him, all else is second-rate or old-fashioned.

The life of Jesus unfolds as an enigma at the centre of which lie his Passion and death. That he comes from a modest, unpretentious background, that he presents himself without rank or title, without wealth or backing, that he makes no effort to command everybody’s obeisance by means of some great cosmic sign — all of these are already disconcerting enough. All limits are exceeded, however, when he announces a most sinister ending of his life as being on the way. He is going to allow himself to be arrested, insulted and crucified like a common criminal. This enigma can be articulated in two great rhetorical questions that dominate the

Gospel: who is Jesus? (from 1:14 up to Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi, 8:30) and Where is he going? (from 8:22 to 16:8). The answer — that he is the Son of God — runs through the entire Gospel, but somewhat like an under-surface stream that cannot be heard unless one listens attentively, as, for example, when Jesus holds up the little child.

When a pope or bishop takes a little baby from its mother’s arms to raise it above the crowd, he is repeating what was a significant gesture of Jesus. It is not just a demonstration of the kindly nature of a good man; it is a sure sign of the Kingdom and an indication of the kind of Messiah that Jesus was proclaiming himself to be. By this gesture, Jesus expresses the absolute newness that he himself is. In our ordinary world, deference would be given to grown-ups; Jesus gives it to the child. What is it in the child that merits this? Surely, it is that the child is an explosion of joy and life, is full of spontaneity and confidence, is without deviousness and mental reservations, and has the freshness of the dawn or the fountain-head. The child is like Springtime, like the rising sun, the bearer of the future. The child sparkles and makes everyone else sparkle, even the one with the murkiest face.

The Messiah is not to be a prince or a hero in worldly terms. Rather, A child is born to us (Is 9, 5.) His first appearance is in swaddling clothes. The Son of God wished to be born, to live and to die as a child, innocent and unsuspecting, poor and dependent, because the Father’s House is the Kingdom of children. Unless we become as little children, we cannot enter it. What a disconcerting Messiah Jesus is! He never ceases to astonish us. The child, the Messiah — and the Father, what a trinity! Another case of Like Father, like Son.

The price of seeking privilege

One would really expect better of the disciples. Although they had spent so much of their time in the company of Jesus, saw so much of his behaviour and heard so much of his preaching they were still wide of the mark in their understanding of greatness and service. Jesus himself set the pattern of real service: “though he was in the form of God.. he emptied himself, assuming the condition of a slave” (Phil. 2:6f.) In the Gospel of Mark Jesus predicts his passion three times within quite a short period of time. The first is in chapter eight (8:31-33) and takes place in Caesarea Philippi just after Peter’s profession of faith which was our Gospel last Sunday. The second is today’s reading from chapter nine (9:30-32) in Galilee just after the healing of the dumb demoniac. The third comes in chapter ten (10:32-34) on the road to Jerusalem just after the teaching about leaving everything for the sake of the Gospel.

These three predictions of the passion have been compared to the solemn tolling of a bell. Jesus is in the thick of his ministry but is progressing irrevocably towards Jerusalem where all was to be brought to fulfilment. Of these three accounts the one we have today is the simplest and for this reason is regarded as the most primitive. In each case the disciples misunderstand what Jesus is telling them. But they realise that things are slowly coming to a head and they want to be part of it, that’s surely why they were arguing about who was the greatest. The disciples are slow on the uptake but gradually they begin to get the message. This news about a forthcoming passion is hard for them to grasp and that’s why Jesus repeats it on several occasions.

We gather here in this Church week by week, we come here because of our faith and we do so in order to pray and worship God together. We are Christ’s disciples in the world today we are trying our level best to live the way he wants us to live, we try to refrain from struggling for position, we try to live out the prescriptions of the Gospel in our daily lives. We know that we frequently fail, but with the help of God we pick ourselves up and start again in the knowledge that we are moving towards the goal for which we long so much.

If anyone wants to be first he must make himself last of all and servant of all. This teaching is at the heart of the Gospel. It is Jesus’ recipe for discipleship. But be careful and notice what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean a Uriah Heep sort of humility. It doesn’t mean putting yourself down all the time. It doesn’t mean baseness before others. But the actual text says that Jesus wants us to be the servant of all. This sounds like a bit of a tall order but it is actually all of a piece with serving Jesus. Our master gave his life for the whole human race. He valued each and every creature, he served even the lowest of the low. He did so not always in the way they expected but he changed their lives and through his actions enabled them to live in a new and better way. So we should do no less. To put it at its simplest we serve others in the way Jesus serves us.

Some truths are hard to hear

We can all struggle at times to listen to someone if what they say arouses painful emotions in us. They might be trying to tell us something about ourselves that we find difficult to hear. That very human tendency is reflected in the disciples in today’s gospel. Jesus had something very important to say about what was about to happen to him. In the words of the gospel, he was telling them that he would find himself in the hands of others, who would put him to death. This was something that the disciples found very hard to hear and were not able to take on board. As the gospel says, ‘they did not understand what he said and they were afraid to ask him.’ Already in Mark’s gospel Jesus told them what was likely to happen to him. They were no more open to hearing it the second time than they were the first. They did not understand it and they were reluctant to question him because they were afraid they might not be able to live with the answers he would give them. In some ways that is a very human reaction. We often find ourselves not willing to ask questions because we suspect that we would struggle to live with the answers to our questions.

Yet, in our heart of hearts, we often recognize that there are certain realities we have to face, even if they are painful to face. There are certain illusions we may have to let go of, even if we have come to cherish them. In the second part of today’s gospel Jesus worked to disillusion his disciples, in that good sense. He needed to prise them away from the illusions of greatest that they harboured. They seemed to have thought that being part of Jesus’ circle would bring them privilege and status. No sooner had Jesus spoken of himself as someone who would end up as one of the least than the disciples began to argue among themselves as to which of them was the greatest. They wanted power and, it seems, that they wanted power for its own sake. This is the kind of self-centred ambition that James talks about in the second reading when he says, ‘you have an ambition that you cannot satisfy, so you fight to get your way by force.’ In place of that very worldly ambition, Jesus places before his disciples a very different kind of ambition, an ambition that has the quality of what James in that reading refers to as ‘the wisdom that comes down from above.’ This is God’s ambition for their lives and for all our lives. It is the ambition to serve, as Jesus says in the gospel, ‘those who want to be first must make themselves last of all and servant of all.’ This ambition to serve, again in the words of James in that second reading, is something that ‘makes for peace and is kindly and considerate; it is full of compassion and shows itself by doing good.’

Jesus implies that this is to be our primary ambition as his followers. All our other ambitions have to be subservient to that God-inspired ambition. In his teaching of his disciples and of us all, Jesus carefuls on his teaching by performing a very significant action. He takes a little child and sets the child in front of his disciples, puts his arms around the child and declares that whoever welcomes one such child, welcomes him and not only him but God the Father who sent him. Jesus was saying by that action that the ambition to serve must give priority to the most vulnerable members of society, symbolized by the child who is completely dependent on adults for his or her well being. Our ambition is to serve those who, for one reason or another, are not in a position to serve themselves. Jesus goes, assuring his disciples and us that in serving the most vulnerable we are in fact serving him. In the presence of the disciples who seemed consumed with an ambition for power for its own sake Jesus identifies himself with the powerless, those who are most dependent on our care. Over against the ambition of the disciples to serve themselves, Jesus puts the ambition to serve him as he comes to us in and through the weakest members of society. In our gospel Jesus is putting before us what his family of disciples, what the church, is really about.


One Response

  1. Thara Benedicta

    Key Message:

    Are we the ‘last in earth and first in heaven’ or ‘first in earth and last in heaven’?


    The takeaway from the first reading:
    The first reading elaborates on the thoughts of a wicked manipulative person. We would have experienced a similar situation in our life. Like our peers in the office degrading our work through their manipulative words, belittling us in front of our colleagues, our cousins gossiping about us, and so on. We also experienced that our deeds done with good intentions are misinterpreted as deeds done with selfish motives. All these are offshoots of jealousy, bitterness, and a feeling of insecurity.

    How should a Christian fight in these scenarios?
    1. Never spread the wicked deeds or manipulative words of others;
    2. Let God fight our battle. When God sees that we do not fight in our own way and wait on God to show the truth, God will do extraordinary things to bring vindication to us. Sit at the feet of our Lord Jesus and submit all the injustice or troubles to Him. If we have learned to sit at the feet of our Lord Jesus, then we have learned to live well!!

    All of us would have experienced the vindication of God when we fight our battles in this way in our own personal lives. God will surely fight for us, but it will be hidden from us for a period of time. Suddenly, one day we will realize that God has granted us victory, but actually, He would have been working for us for a long time.

    A good example is in the life of Mother Mary. When Mother Mary conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, Mother Mary did not convince St. Joseph that she had conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. How terribly Mother Mary would have suffered when St. Joseph came to know about Her pregnancy. How much pain Her innocent heart would have undergone had St. Joseph contemplated to separate from her. In all these sufferings, Mother Mary knew that God would fight her battles.
    We all know how God fought the battle for Mother Mary, by miraculously sending an angel!!

    Why should good people suffer?
    In the same example of Mother Mary’s annunciation, we have the message.
    God could have easily avoided the suffering of Mother Mary and Saint Joseph, by asking Angel Gabriel to give the annunciation news to Saint Joseph too on the return trip to Heaven. But God wanted to give us the ‘Holy Family’, an example in everything. So He did not shield them from sufferings.

    1. Mother Mary did not ask ‘why this suffering/’, but said ‘Let God’s will be done.’ – This is our best response and invokes God to fight for us.
    2. We can now recollect that there are sufferings in the life of Mother Mary and Saint Joseph right from the start. Through the path of pain, they served God.

    God has allowed the most Holy Family to undergo unlimited sufferings, to show us an example. When the ‘Holy Family’ got through the path of sufferings, we would also be able to get through them.

    The takeaway from the second reading:
    The second reading today explains “pure wants/requests”. It says if we ask God because of our jealousy, envy, selfish ambitions, or unwanted desires, we will not obtain anything.
    The requirement for “correct asks” is aligning ourselves according to God’s will.
    Let us see the Bible references for this:
    1. “A prayer request that made God happy”.

    King Solomon sang 1000 praises for our Almighty God. It impressed God and then God came in a dream and asked Solomon to tell his wish. Solomon asked for wisdom stating that to take care of God’s numerous people, he would need wisdom. Bible says that God was impressed with Solomon’s reply. God liked the following factors:

    a. King Solomon did not ask for fame or riches for himself.
    b. He asked for wisdom to take care of God’s people.

    Solomon’s faithfulness reverberated in his prayer request too. This made God happier. So God granted Him more than what He had wished for.

    2. “A Prayer request that God does not hear”.
    But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. Isaiah 59:2
    This bible verse says that our sins hide our prayers from God. We should repent for our sins, if our sins are blocking our prayers. Then our prayers will reach God as it is written – “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working”, as in James 5:16

    The takeaway from the Gospel reading:

    We will look into two messages from today’s Gospel:
    1. God’s preparation for our suffering:
    In today’s Gospel and in the last week’s Gospel we see that Jesus is preparing His Apostles for His suffering. Jesus calls them separately and explicitly tells them in advance to prepare them. Similarly, the Holy Spirit in His overflowing love, prepares us also for all the major adversities in our lives if they are according to the will of God. We will not be able to recognise it then, but when we look back and analyse, we will be able to understand and recognise proactive preparation from God.

    God chooses His own ways;
    a. By telling through His little voice.
    Example: One morning a person heard the little voice telling him that it had been some time since he had suffered for God. That day his father had a fall and got hospitalised. But He was feeling peaceful inside because he knew that this suffering was from God.
    b. By preparing us with simple struggles so that we will have the faith to carry on bigger tasks/challenges. The life of our Lord Jesus is a great example for this. Jesus faced opposition all through His ministry. He faced hunger, He did not have a place to sleep, He was rejected by the people of His own town. Though He was God, He underwent pain and struggles all through His life. Finally, when the day of carrying the big cross came, He knew what to expect.

    2. God’s definition of first and last:
    According to the world’s definitions, being ‘FIRST’ has more visibility, and is most aspired for. In the heavenly realm, being ‘LAST’ has more visibility and is the most aspired one.

    Mother Teresa started her ministry by begging for the poor. Once when she was begging for the poor, a rich person spat in her hands. Immediately, Mother Teresa wiped her hands in her dress, again with open arms, she sweetly said, “What you have given just now, is for me alone. Please give something for the poor”. This changed the heart of the person and he liberally provided for the poor.

    Mother Teresa craved to be the servant of all on earth, God granted her ‘Saint’ cadre ‘FIRST’ place both in Heaven and earth.

    “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” Matthew 19:30.

    Tips for implementing the Takeaways:

    1. Charitable thoughts, words, and deeds:
    When we feel like recalling the injuries caused by others, it is great to offer the sacrifice of not meditating upon the past sufferings. It is more challenging than many other action-oriented tasks. Submit your sufferings to Mother Mary. Try focussing on some other activity, as soon as the mind brings up these thoughts. Offer them repentance for the sins of the world along with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    Not shouting when you feel like shouting, not gossiping when you feel like gossiping, not pointing fingers at others, keeping silent when things are not going your way, not complaining are all charitable works.
    Feeding the poor especially those around us like domestic helpers, buying Christmas or birthday dresses, and any of our favourite methods of charitable works. Helping a young student study, teach a dull student, listening to someone’s pains are all great works.
    Any form of charity Our Father likes and our fervent prayers are easily heard.

    2. Personal Aspirations in sync with God’s aspirations:
    When our will aligns with God’s will, then we will have a satisfied and fulfilled life. Kneel down and pray to God to show clarity in what He has planned for your life. Then we can work with God and our life will be more fruitful.

    3. Living last on earth:
    Living last on earth does not mean becoming the poorest person. Our Lord Jesus was the living teacher for His Apostles. He was the loving lead of His twelve-member team. Yet He was humble. He lovingly washed their feet. After His resurrection, He cooked for them. He ensured that they took a rest when they were tired. He allocated tasks for them like arranging for a ‘Passover meal’. Yet was there any place where our Lord Jesus was not humble?
    In our daily lives too, we may be the boss of our organisation or a person in a leadership position or we may have incompetent peers. Instead of complaining about what our incompetent team is doing, we should be their help.
    We should not think more highly of ourselves than anyone else. That is humility.
    When Mother Teresa was asked about her huge achievements, Mother Teresa sweetly replied that if God had chosen anyone else also, they too would have done the same.

    First is not becoming first in what we choose to do, but in what God chooses for us to do.