19 Sep Homily – 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Where jealousy and selfish ambition exists, there is disorder and every foul practice…
Three years ago when we had these readings, we were in the early stages of the Presidential election. Today it seems that despite the election, jealousy and selfish ambition continue to foment disorders and foul practices. Former President Bush, speaking in Shanksville, PA on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 sums it up this way: “So much of our politics has become a naked appeal to anger, fear, and resentment. That leaves us worried about our nation and our future together. I come without explanations or solutions. I can only tell you what I’ve seen.” I share his vision but I look with hope to the prevalence of our Christian faith as expressed in today’s readings.
Yesterday morning’s paper cover the “disorder and foul practices” of violence with 23 shot and four killed overnight, charges of fraud, public indecency, COVID-19 issues, immigration and refugees from Central America, Haiti, and Afghanistan.
Our public leaders spend their time pointing at one another and placing blame always elsewhere. When they ran for office, the airways are full of political ads telling us “oh what a good person am I” and how badly they want to be our servant in representing us on the national, state, or local level. Some even say “I work for you” but I don’t hear anyone saying what Jesus says “I want to be last and servant of all.” Since I read this gospel, in fact all these readings I’ve been listening to what the ads say: virtually nothing about “servant of all.” In honesty and fairness the braggadocious content of the media commercials is one thing all political parties have in common and it focuses on the ME, rather than the “Servant of All.”
The reading from Wisdom reads like a Suffering Servant Song from Isaiah, but from the perspective of the wicked. Whereas the Suffering Servant speaks of his trials at the hands of the ungodly, here the wicked reveal their motivation for attacking the righteous: “he sets himself against our doings…., reproaches us…, and charges us” (Wis 2:12). Sounds like the author of Wisdom has seen the same political ads that I’ve been watching. After the speech of the wicked, the subject turns to the hidden counsels of God.
The reading from the Letter of James also focuses on the wicked, but not as outside opponents. Here the vices of jealousy, selfish ambition, conflicts, envy, killing, and war emerge from one’s passions (Jas 4:1). These elements appear as key ingredients in the political discourse that I’ve seen and heard. The lies are on both sides of the aisle because too often conflict is the only message without little if any references to solutions.
In the Gospel, Jesus catches the disciples fighting over who of them are the greatest, the most important, and the most influential? Who is number one? Remember the game King of the Mountain of childhood years. The same game is played as adults but in more clever and sophisticated ways. The most wealth, the nicest cars, the biggest house are the signs of importance. But Jesus dismisses those symbols and brings a little child, perhaps a street urchin, into the midst of his hand-picked disciples and remarks, with his arm around the child’s shoulder, here is number one. Over 280 children have been shot in Chicago this year. I shudder to think how Jesus reacts to these shootings after embracing childlike innocence as the way to God and healing, compassion and reconciliation.
We give a lot of attention to number one in our society, except that God looks at things differently. Number one is the care-giver, the mentor, the humble servant of the needs of society. So many of the political commentators wring their hands and regret the neglected of society, but their later budgets not only neglect them but too often even reduce what had been given.
I’m sorry if I sound political. I am trying to sound moral and ethical because that is what Wisdom and James are telling us. Jesus in the Gospel of Mark today is very blunt with his disciples and we are his present day disciples. He tells us to remember the little ones of society who are his precious concerns: the refugee, the COVID-19 carrier, those who live in constant fear of violence. I would sort of like him to wrap his arm around my shoulder and yours too as we hear those words: well done good and faithful servant.
Michael Doyle, O.S.M.