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God's Word on Sunday: Rejoice in the goodness of others

  • September 12, 2021

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 19 (Year B) Wisdom 1:12, 17-20; Psalm 54; James 3:16-4:3; Mark 9:30-37

Goodness and holiness do not always evoke admiration and praise from everyone. Jealousy and fear are sometimes the surprising reaction.

Some might wish to be like the good person but are unwilling to make the effort to become so. The just and holy person might make some feel fearful, as if the mere presence of goodness exposes their own darkness and judges them.

The imagined adversaries in Wisdom loath the sight of the righteous person — he cramps their style and makes them uneasy. They want to remove him from their sight, so they plot his murder. But murder is not enough — they want to destroy who he is.

Far better if they can strip away his gentleness and forbearance and provoke him to respond to their threats and insults in a similar manner. The just one trusts in God, so they will try to break his spirit. If God does not come to save him, they will have robbed him of his faith.

The truly faith-filled person trusts in God regardless of the outcome and does not look for a last-minute rescue from difficulties. They know that regardless of what happens they are held in the heart and mind of God.

Today such behaviour is usually less violent but no less effective. People dig for dirt on admired people and look for the chink in their armour — their faults and flaws — and seek to bring them down. Fear and jealousy continue to do their evil work. It would be far more fruitful to rejoice in the goodness and decency of others and allow ourselves to be inspired by them.

Why is the world such a hellish and violent place? James had a simple answer: greed and selfish ambition. People crave whatever others have — money, fame, possessions or power — and will do almost anything to possess it. They want to muscle ahead of others and be number one.

James counters this tendency with the wisdom that comes from above and provides a way of life that is at odds with the world. It is pure, peaceful, gentle, generous, honest and merciful. Self-seeking is not part of this wisdom. He challenges people to rely on the abundance and generosity of God and ask for those things that we need. There is more than enough for everyone, and we must not give in to the desperation and greed that arise through fear and a lack of trust in God.

It had been a long and somewhat tense journey from the mountain where Jesus had been transfigured. Jesus talked about His impending fate: He would be arrested and killed, and then rise again on the third day. But the disciples paid no heed; his words made little impression.

Along the way, they were squabbling among themselves. At the house where they were to spend the night, Jesus asked them what they had been talking about. There was only an embarrassed silence, for they had been arguing about who among them was the greatest. They had understood nothing; the words of Jesus had gone in one ear and out the other.

We can only imagine how disheartened Jesus must have felt. Jesus then turned all their human values and expectations upside down. The first in the community was the one who put himself last, becoming the servant of all. Being the greatest is defined by humility and service, not in competitiveness and flashiness.

In that ancient culture, children had no status or honour, so Jesus used a child to demonstrate what He had been talking about. We all bear the image and likeness of God within us. A child had potentially as much honour and status as Jesus Himself. Anyone welcoming a child because of their devotion to Jesus welcomed not only Jesus but God the Father.

Our spiritual awareness should enable us to see and honour the divine presence in absolutely everyone. No one is of greater worth than others because of outward appearances and status — God is equally present in all. This fundamental principle has received little more than lip service over the centuries. If we took this seriously and lived by it, our Church and our world would be very different. But as always, we must begin with ourselves.