Sunday Scripture Readings

TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, SEPTEMBER 21 Wisdom 2:12, 17-20; Psalm 54; James 3:16, 4:3; Mark 9:30-37 OUR GOOD NEWS: Jesus accepted betrayal and death to show His love for us sinners. "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." A truly good person is often hated, vilified, persecuted, even destroyed rather than appreciated and honored. Why? The author of today’s first reading, a religious thinker and pious teacher in the Old Testament wisdom tradition, boldly drew upon the riches of pagan, Hellenistic culture for an honest answer. "Let us see whether his words be true; let us find out what will happen to him." Such a one becomes an insufferable affront to evil people. They feel themselves condemned by his example of careful moral living and resent his plain-spoken criticism resolutely attesting to what is right. In this sinful world, power belongs to the evil who acknowledge no other norm for determining truth than pride. They find satisfaction in persecuting whoever challenges their warped values, question the possibility of virtue and expect it to be exposed as phony in time of adversity. Above all, persecution involves a test of strength: Is God powerful enough to deliver the just? "Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him." The Lord refuses to play their childish but deadly power-games. Here is another Old Testament text marvelously illuminating the scandal of Jesus’ Cross through two key points. Rejection and destruction of the sinless Son of Man suggested the triumph of evil over good. It occurred only because of God’s deliberate will, revealed beforehand through prophecy. On the other hand, responsibility for Jesus’ death belongs to sinful humankind, not to a sadistic divinity. This reading urges us not to expect appreciation or reward for being good. God is in charge but not responsible, permitting but not causing the just to be tried for mysterious but loving reasons. In the Gospel, upon returning to His own territory Jesus traveled incognito, lest He be hindered from journeying to His eventual fate in Jerusalem. "He sat down (the teacher’s position) and called the Twelve" Apostles for instruction. To be great means giving up all ambition to be great in anything but helping others; we are to do as Jesus did. The discipleship to which we are all called means following Christ in a lifestyle involving selfless suffering for others. Practical applications to today’s Scripture include, first, Christian leadership, which differs radically from secular exercise of power. Authority provides opportunity for service as servant, rather than honor and perquisites as master. Secondly, practical care and concern focus precisely on those most in need of assistance: the weak who are unable to care for themselves, those lacking appeal and political clout, those who can never repay. Finally, such least human beings represent Emmanuel — God in our midst — and must be "welcomed": reverenced and respected as well as aided.

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