1 Wisdom 2:12, 17-20 / Psalm 54:3-4, 5, 6 and 8 / 2 James 3:16-4:3 / Mk 9:30-37
The first reading is prophetic in regards to the coming Messiah, but the posture of testing God is not something new. The wicked would always seek to put up roadblocks to the Lord and his saving works. Traitors within the ranks of the covenant people fought and even killed the prophets. This is in marked contrast to the humility of a disciple who embraces divine providence and seeks to make a straight path for the Lord. The reading unveils the deceit of evil. There is no discernment of spirits; rather, they have already made up their minds.
They hate the just or righteous one because he is everything they are not. Notice today, there are critics who malign the late Mother Teresa and the Popes. If you Google priests, you will find hundreds of links about scandal and crime, but little about the thousands who have been obedient to God and loving of their people. Believers are ridiculed as hypocrites and yet little is said about the works of justice and charity that millions of the faithful make possible. Those who criticize us would not lift a finger to help others unless there is something in it for themselves. Each of us is to be a new Christ in bringing truth, healing and forgiveness to others. We see Jesus in the oppressed, the poor, the wounded, the alone and the unborn. We are not social workers. Rather, in us is realized Christ ministering to Christ.
The enemies of heaven will not allow God or his messengers to tell them what to do or to honestly expose their sins. Here too believers are castigated as hate-mongers or out-of-touch because we stress purity before marriage and regard marriage as a natural institution between a man and woman. They deny the wrong of their ways and then seek to compel believers to accept their deviancy and/or transgressions as lawful. While sin might be tolerated, the beliefs and discipleship of Christians is given little quarter. Indeed, even the government now attacks religious liberty. The Church can preach what it wants inside the church doors, at least for now, but outside those doors we will be compelled to compromise our values, as with the HHS forced-funding of contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilization. Instead of admitting that the unborn man or woman has a God-given right to life, the powers-that-be would make the Church accessories to their murder.
The wicked in Scripture argue, “With revilement and torture let us put the just one to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him.” This is certainly the plight of Jesus Christ. While such a sentence might not befall us, there are places in the world today where Catholics still face the prospect of torture and death for their beliefs. Here we may endure public recrimination from the media and political figures, hefty fines, imprisonment and the closure of Catholic operations: schools, charities and hospitals.
Despite the mockery and faithlessness of the wicked, we have every confidence that God will never abandon his stewards. Whatever comes, we will take up our crosses and walk with the Lord. Man is not the measure of all things; instead, it is the God who made us and sets up the parameters of our existence and obedience.
The responsorial psalm gives voice to our confidence: “The Lord upholds my life. Behold, God is my helper; the Lord sustains my life. Freely will I offer you sacrifice; I will praise your name, O LORD, for its goodness.” I am reminded of a priest-friend who prayed this psalm with courage when he was arrested, not for violence or theft, but for saying his rosary outside an abortion clinic. They said he was blocking free access. He went to jail. The archbishop at that time said that we had permission to get arrested, but that we had to be bailed out for Sunday Mass. Most of us were afraid to take matters this far. We backed away. But he was filled with the Spirit of God and was dragged away and placed behind bars. The guards took away his breviary prayer book and rosary beads. He found out later that a woman coming to the clinic saw his arrest and turned around. She would credit his sacrifice with saving the life of her daughter.
If only we could truly live in right relationship with God and neighbor. The second reading is almost a lament of the human condition. We are self-seeking and rationalize our faults while we should be generous and repentant of wrongs. We attack those who would open our eyes to the truth. Our society is one where passions run amuck, nature is assaulted and foul practices abound. I grieve that our children should be exposed to such corruption. Do I over-make my case? Notice the vulgarity in music, film, television, books and the internet. More couples cohabitate than are married. Half of all marriages fail and adultery is the frequent cause. There is also a basic dishonesty where many people steal if they think they can get away with it. Fertility is treated as a disease and the unborn child is disposed of as a cancer. What can come of a society that treats a blessing as a curse? What becomes of a civilization where a curse or depravity is elevated to a civil right?
The Gospel reading has Jesus telling his friends precisely what is going to happen: “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” Nevertheless, we are told his listeners did not understand and were fearful about asking questions. Instead, they ended up arguing about who among them was the greatest. While we cannot know for sure what emotions this precipitated in Jesus, I would suspect that he was tremendously disappointed. They still did not understand— either the cost of his mission or their personal cost in following him. In response, Jesus singles out a child, places his arms around him or her, and says, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” Our Lord took the least among them and singled out a child as the greatest of all. The apostles and disciples are not the masters of the kingdom, but its servants. They and those who would come after them were called to sacrifice personal ambitions for the sake of the kingdom— particularly the voiceless and marginalized. We still remember the child, both in our schools and in the womb. It is for this reason that true believers are a sign of contradiction in the world. We speak up for the rights and dignity of those who cannot speak for themselves. We proclaim the truth and hand down the values given us to each subsequent generation, both in and out of season.
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