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September 23 25th Sunday of the Year (B)

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Wisdom 2:12, 17-20).

This reading is taken from the work known as the Wisdom of Solomon (or more commonly in the Latin Church as the Book of Wisdom). The work was composed in Greek in Egypt, most probably in the latter half of the first century B.C. Its purpose was to strengthen the Jews in Egypt in their faith, the faith of their ancestors. They were now in Egypt, living in a highly sophisticated society, advanced in science and literature, with a variety of philosophical and religious views. One prominent view was that religious views or belief in God had no part to play in our lives. Our existence was by pure chance, with no afterlife. This is put very forcefully in the passage immediately preceding the present reading (Wisdom of Solomon 2:1-5; NRSV text): “For they reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves, ‘Short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no remedy when a life comes to its end, and no one has been known to return from Hades. For we were born by mere chance, and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been, for the breath in our nostrils is smoke, and reason is a spark kindled by the beating of our hearts; when it is extinguished, the body will turn to ashes, and the spirit will dissolve like empty air. Our name will be forgotten in time, and no one will remember our works; our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud, and be scattered like mist that is chased by the rays of the sun and overcome by its heat.  For our allotted time is the passing of a shadow, and there is no return from our death, because it is sealed up and no one turns back.” The text goes on to say that life is to be enjoyed; might is right (2:8-12). The presence, and the very existence, of believers in God, with their faith in divine providence towards them, and their moral code of patience and gentleness, was a serious obstacle to such a world view, and one to be removed. This their view is clearly presented in this present reading.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 53[54]). The Lord upholds my life.

Second Reading (James 3:16-4:3).

In one of the Beatitudes Jesus says: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God”. Peacemakers must know the roots of those things that make for strife and the absence of peace. Jesus addressed this question after criticizing the emphasis of some Jewish groups on such externals as the washing of vessels and hands. He lays stress on the purity of heart, the source of action. “It is from within, from persons’ hearts, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these come from within” (Mark 7:21-23). James has essentially the same message in this reading. But he is not just giving ethical teaching. He stresses the wisdom that come from above, which is the sources of the virtues that are the very opposite of these vices. He has already (James 1:5) told his readers to pray for this wisdom. He then goes on to examine the cause of the more serious problems within a community: fighting, dissention, even manslaughter. The root of all this, he stresses, lies in the human heart, in unbridled ambition that will do anything to have its way. Again, for him, recourse must be had to prayer, prayer for self-knowledge and self-control.

Gospel (Mark 9:30-37).

The passage read as last Sunday’s Gospel reading was on the profession of faith in Christ at in the region of Caesarea Philippi. After this Mark’s narrative goes on to speak of the Transfiguration of Christ on “a high mountain apart”, followed by some other events, leading on to today’s reading. The opening words in today’s Gospel reading “After leaving the mountain Jesus and his disciples” are not from the biblical text, but are intended to introduce this new passage. There are two sections in this reading. The first gives Jesus second prediction of his passion -- addressed to all his disciples (The others are Mark 8:31, to all disciples; 10:32-34, to the Twelve.). In all three Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man. This passage is at the beginning of the section of Jesus’ journey from the profession of faith in himself at Caesarea to Jerusalem, to his humiliating passion and death, to be followed by his resurrection. During this journey Jesus is instructing his disciples, not just the Twelve, but all who wish to follow him, and his instruction centres on his coming passion. To follow him is to experience his humiliation and his passion. His words are addressed to all believers, not just the select Twelve. Mark notes that his disciples did not understand what he said about his humiliating passion, foreshadowing the position of believers down through the centuries. The Church, all believers, should be characterized by humble following of the gentle and crucified Christ, not by triumphalism.  The next scene is in “the house” at Capernaum, presumably Peter’s .The Twelve, Jesus’ core group, have been arguing among themselves as to which of them would be the most important, presumably in the kingdom, the kingdom viewed as a political entity. Jesus, as a teacher (seated) puts matter right: in his kingdom human, political, values and status are reversed. The first must be last, and servant of all. Service is the central value here.  The final saying on the child has, apparently, also to do with service. The child here is not so much a symbol of innocence or humility as someone without legal status, hence helpless. The Twelve, and all Church administration, are to accept and welcome the helpless in the name of Jesus. To do so is to welcome Jesus himself, and the Father who sent him. The Servant Church (the Twelve) should accept the helpless, and when done in the name of Jesus there is admission of the Church’s own calling to serve God the Father.

B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day

The Servant Church The Gospel narratives are very emphatic that discipleship, the following of Jesus, implies partaking in his passion and resurrection. That holds for all followers, not just for Church leadership. On his way to his death Jesus also made cleat to his Twelve apostles that their role in God’s kingdom was not as political leadership, with status, but as servants of the crucified Christ, devoted to service of the weak and vulnerable, among others. It is worth recalling what following of the crucified Christ means. It is possibly put clearest by Jesus himself after the first prediction of his passion (Mark 8:34-38): It means to die to oneself and to profess faith in Jesus openly. “If any one would come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”  The Church a servant with divine confidence. While they journey with Christ to his passion and Calvary, believers are aware that that in turn led to the resurrection, when God exalted him and gave him the glorious name Lord, to whom every knee in heaven and on earth will bow. The Church must continue to proclaim this victory of Christ.  Church service and defence of the Gospel. Jesus has made quite clear that future Church administration, represented in his day by the Twelve (Apostles) addressed by him, should be humble, not seeking honour, but acting as servants. The same twelve, and their successors, were also sent to proclaim the Gospel, and, when required, to defend its integrity and true interpretation. This is clearest in the case of Paul, who told the Galatians that if an angel of heaven were to preach a different Gospel he was not to be accepted.  Christ’s patient suffering to serve as an example for Christians. We have an early example of this in 1 Peter 2:21-24: “To this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps”.  The apostle Paul is rich on the presence of the sufferings, of the death and the resurrection of Christ in his own personal life and in that of believers. He himself shared abundantly in Christ’s sufferings and through Christ abundantly in comfort also (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). This helped him understand his sufferings of others. A similar principle of the working of grace is evident in Ireland where memory of their own terrible Famine sufferings has led not to a spirit of revenge but of help to other countries in need.