Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
So as to present ourselves to the graces of the liturgy, imagine
Jesus with his out-stretched arms wide open in welcoming a small child tottering
towards him. The disciples watch in amazement as Jesus answers their most
important question with this simple gesture. Over their empuzzled heads reads
the inscription, “Why doesn’t he ever give us a straight answer?”
We see Jesus giving us, through the words of Mark the Evangelist, one more
image or definition of himself. The liturgy’s readings center around the apparent
theme of Jesus’ being mistreated, set upon, violently handled, and eventually
put to death. Behind this theme lies a more subtle picture of Jesus as least,
Jesus as servant of all. This being servant, will force him to speak and
live his truth which in turn will result in his being handed over. Through
it all, he remains servant even of the smallest and most insignificant.
We pray in gratitude for this faithful servant who embraces and welcomes
us. His arms remain stretched wide open in a forever welcoming outreach from
the cross and from his resurrection state. We pray with the humility of those
being served out of love and the joy of never being excluded. We can pray
also for the grace of our being faithful, welcoming, and forgiving in our
personal continuing his redemptive ministry.
We hear first from the Book of Wisdom, a/k/a The Wisdom of Solomon. The
verses to which we listen follow the first verses of the chapter. These verses
are a kind of lament about the human condition’s being such a tedious drudgery
and having little or no meaning. Therefore disregard any restraint, eat drink
and pretend you are merry, because nothing really matters.
“Come then, let us enjoy what good things there are, use this creation
with the zest of youth, take our fill of the dearest wines and perfumes, let
not one flower of springtime pass us by.”
This hymn of depression ends with a call to “leave the signs of our revelry
everywhere, this is our portion, this the lot assigned to us.” What we do
hear today, is a vengeful call to prevail over the “virtuous” or the one who
thinks and speaks a different song of life’s meaning. This person’s life,
words, works, and spirit will be an affront to those who see life as meaningless
and empty. By oppression and torment, this “just man” will have to prove that
he is a God-loved son and God will have to prove to be faithful as well.
These verses are not a direct prophesy of the treatment Jesus will receive,
but a prediction of what happens to those who despair of the goodness of life
as well as a prediction of what they would do to those who live with an opposite
spirit. History has proven these verses correct.
The Gospel seems to be united in theme. Jesus tells them about his future
suffering, death and his being raised. The disciples are privately discussing
which of them is the greatest, presumably the greatest amongst them. Then
Jesus talks about welcoming children and how receiving them is related to
receiving Jesus and the one who sent him. How does all this relate to the
theme of the First Reading?
There is a tendency in the human heart to do away with those who bother
us. We can do away with them by moving away or removing them from our having
to experience their words and actions. People who smoke tend to avoid those
who, even gently, speak about the dangers of smoking. Human history
is bloodied with the events of hatred against men and women whose lives and
works confront the cruelty and injustices of others. We just do not like anybody
to interrupt our selfish ways.
Jesus lived as a divine interruption. We can have various views
of the meaning of life, or the value of creation, or the significance of a
little child. The disciples have been discussing rank and personal establishment.
The greatest among them will be the leader and have some authority and esteem.
Those who have such importance and power have a tendency to be in relationship
with others of like status, which in turn will verify and continue to establish
their own “greatness.”
Taking a small child, not significant in the arena of “greatness” reveals
to the disciples that truly being “great” has to do with how one relates with
the “non-great.” This life-vision, wherein everything is holy, acceptable,
and welcomed, is an insult to those who live by labeling and discarding that
which and those who are not “great” from the unborn to the un-young.
Pope John Paul II has done an amazing amount of “great” works in his life.
In January of 1984, I attended a conference for those associated with the
L’Arche movement from around the world. The gathering
was in Rome and a conference with the Pope was arranged. L’Arche is a movement
begun by Jean Vanier which embraces in community those injured mentally. There
were about fifty of us seated in a large Vatican room and we were joined by
the members of the L’Arche community in Rome. Pope John Paul began his talk
to us with warmth and depth. In a wink, a young L’Arche lad jumped up and
performed a sommersault right in front of the Pope! The Pope became Father
John Paul and reached out and hoisted the youngster up and into his lap while
continuing to speak to us about who is the “greatest.” He really did not need
to say any more words. This man who has spoken the challenging words to the
violent forces of our times and who was shot in an act of violence, could
embrace a “whom” who is a “what” in the eyes of many.
The “great” are those who welcome the “greatness”
of God in the least of God’s creation. The “great” are those who follow Jesus
in challenging the values of greed, violence, and intolerance. The “great”
are those whose lives insult the ways of the ungrateful.
“You have laid down your precepts to be faithfully
kept. May my footsteps be firm in keeping your commands.” Ps.