Daily Reflection
September 21st, 2003
Larry Gillick, S.J.
Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality
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Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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

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. 119


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