Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Twenty-fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

September 19, 2021
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Wisdom 2:12, 17-20
Psalm 54: 3-4, 5, 6, 8
James 3:16-4:3
Mark 9:30-37

The reading from the Book of Wisdom today lets us hear the thoughts of the wicked. They devise ways to attack and persecute the just person for opposing them and bringing to light their wickedness; so, they torture and condemn the just to see if God will protect them. “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training. Let us see whether his words be true; let us find out what will happen to him.” The just one is a cause for their own insecurity and fear and they resent him as an adversary.

That the just are protected and blessed by God is a central belief of the Jewish people, but Jesus seems not to align with that since He is the truly just person who is delivered into the hands of the wicked and put to death. The Gospel reading for today is the second time that Jesus predicts this will happen to Him as recorded in the Gospel of Saint Mark. The disciples who believe that Jesus is the Messiah cannot understand how God will let this happen to Him.

Their lack of understanding is illustrated in what they are discussing. They are arguing about who is most important among them. At least they know enough to be embarrassed when Jesus asks about their conversation. It is a natural human tendency to want to be seen and recognized, to be praised and honored, but things don’t work in the normal way for Jesus’ followers. In a kind and gentle way, Jesus calls attention to their misunderstanding.

Jesus reminds them that greatness in His Kingdom is the opposite of greatness in the world. Being great means being the servant of the needs of others whom we should regard as more important than ourselves. This teaching on the true nature of greatness follows upon Jesus’ second prediction of His passion and death. Then to emphasize that lesson, He calls a child to join them. In the ancient world, children were treated as possessions, and they possessed no rights except those that were granted them by having status in their father’s household. Since they were not fully mature, they were considered not fully human, the lowest level of the human community. They are examples of the lowliest and least, the needy and rejected whom we must serve to be great in Jesus’ Kingdom.

It is not coincidental that in our post-Christian culture, children have returned to a status of belonging only as property or possessions that are prized only on the contingency of their mother’s choice to give birth and their father’s choice to be involved in their lives. It is essential to our Christian life and discipleship to recognize the unique status of children in Jesus’ Kingdom and our responsibility to treat them accordingly by our own words and actions and by ensuring their right to life and protection from predation.

Serving others, especially the vulnerable and weak, is the key to authentic greatness for our status in the Kingdom of Jesus. Saint James in our second reading identifies that what keeps us from greatness in the Kingdom is our own selfishness and fear, “You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy, but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” In many ways our fear and our refusal to ask for God’s grace to be taught and to do things God’s way are our occasions to sin. Therefore, a child is the example of docility that Christ sets before us for discipleship and the example of Him whom we serve.

Letting go of fear and of ambition for possessions, power and recognition, and desires that feed our self-importance is our first step toward a place in Christ’s Kingdom. True greatness is given when we recognize that our lives have never been our own but belong to Christ present in the vulnerable who need us. When we let go of these fears and ambitions, we can pray with the authentically great and just the words of today’s responsorial psalm, “The Lord upholds my life.”

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