25th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle B)

Readings:
Wisdom 2:12, 17-20
Psalm 54:3-6, 8
James 3:16-4:3
Mark 9:30-37

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Service and Suffering
Service and suffering are two sides of the same coin, so to speak, that is a part of the Christian experience in the earthly Kingdom of the Church.  The Church is the sinless Bride of Christ, but the irony is that she is full of sinners in need of repentance and salvation.  The faith community can be a loving family, but at the same time it is subject to human failings like jealousy, gossip, ambition, and other forms of hurtful behavior and strife.  We expect opposition and strife from those outside the faith community, but we feel betrayed when we experience hurtful behavior from within.  Jesus experienced suffering and betrayal from many of His brethren, including one of His own Apostles—Judas Iscariot.

In the First Reading, the inspired writer of the Book of Wisdom addresses the malice of the wicked in subjecting the righteous to persecution.  The early Church Fathers applied this passage to Jesus and His rejection by the Jewish religious authorities who, out of their jealousy, arranged to have Him condemned to death.  The Wisdom reading introduces us to the theme of the Gospel Reading: service and suffering as part of Christian life.

In the Second Reading, St. James addresses the disorder within faith communities generated by false pride, jealousy and selfish ambition instead of humility, love, and peace.  And in the Gospel Reading, Jesus gives the disciples the second prophecy of His Passion, as He warns them of His betrayal by His own people.  Then He teaches them about humility and service, using a little child as an example of the kind of childlike faith and trust that is required of a true servant of God. 

Each of the readings should remind us that when we find disappointments within the Church caused by human failings, we should not blame God or His Church.  Instead we should blame sin, and we should try to restore harmony and peace by praying for those in error, praying for the unity of the Church, and for ourselves as the psalmist prayed in today's Responsorial Psalm: "For the haughty have raised up against me ... Behold, God is my helper."

The First Reading Wisdom 2:12, 17-20 ~ Persecution of the Righteous
The wicked say: 12 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.  [...].  17 Let us see whether his words are true; let us find out what will happen to him.  18 For if the just one be the son of God, God will defend him and deliver him from the hand of his foes.  19 With revilement and torture let us put the just one to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience.  20 Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him.

In this passage the inspired writer of the Book of Wisdom writes about the jealousy and malice of the wicked toward the righteous.  From the earliest years of the Church, the Church Fathers saw the fulfillment of this passage in the opposition to Jesus' ministry and in His Passion.  Each description of the actions of the wicked against "the just man" was fulfilled by Jesus' enemies who were the Pharisees, scribes, chief priests, and the others of rejected Him:

  1. Verse 12: Jesus corrected them on their interpretation of the Law and charged them with being failed shepherds of God's covenant people (e.g., He charged them with not knowing the Scriptures in Mt 21:42 and Mk 12:24 and condemned they for abuses for which they were to face divine judgment in Mt 23:1-36).
  2. Verse 18: Jesus claimed to be the "son of God" and called God His Father (Mt 27:43; Lk 10:22; Jn 5:19-27; 10:36; 14:6-21).
  3. Verse 19: His opponents were continually testing Him (Mt 16:1; 19:3; 22:18, 35).
  4. Verse 20a: They contrived to condemn Him to the shameful death of crucifixion (Mt 27:22-44; Mk 15:13; Lk 23:23; Acts 5:30; 10:29).
  5. Verse 20b: From the cross they taunted Him to have God save Him (Mt 27:42; Mk 15:30; Lk 23:35, 37, 39).

Of all the men ever born from a woman, Jesus was the only truly "just/righteous man", as He told the rich young man when He said, "only One is good", referring to God/Himself (Mt 19:15).

Responsorial Psalm 54:3-6, 8
Response: "The Lord upholds my life."
 
3 O God, by your name save me, and by your might defend my cause.  4 O God, hear my prayer; harken to the words of my mouth.
Response:
5 For the haughty have risen up against me, the ruthless seek my life; they set not God before their eyes.
Response:
6 Behold, God is my helper; the Lord sustains my life.  [...].  8 Freely will I offer you sacrifice; I will praise your name, O LORD, for its goodness.
Response:

The title of this psalm (verses 1-2) explains that it relates the experience of David when he was an outlaw hiding from King Saul.  He had sought refuge with the Ziphites who dwelled in the southern desert of the tribal lands of Judah (1 Sam 23:14-16).  David had gone to them for protection because they were "kinsmen" in that they were members of David's tribe of Judah, but they betrayed him to King Saul (1 Sam 23:19-24; 26:1).

In the psalm, David pleads for his salvation from his enemies (verses 3-5).  Despite his hardships, David calls upon the "name" of the Lord God (the Divine name infers the presence of God).  David has confidence that God will save his life, and in gratitude he intends to offer sacrifice to the Lord and praise His holy name.  David's descendant, Jesus, was also betrayed by His kinsmen.  And, even though He suffered, God preserved His life by raising Him from the bonds of death to divine glory.

The Second Reading James 3:16-4:3 ~ The Lack of Godly Wisdom that sows Disunity
Beloved: 16 Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.  17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity.  18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace. 4:1 Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from?  Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?  2 You covet but do not possess.  You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war.  3 You do not possess because you do not ask.  You ask but do not receive because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

The "wisdom that comes down from above" in verse 17 is probably a reference to the "spirit of the Lord" in Isaiah 11:2.  In his commentary on this passage, St. Bede wrote: "The wisdom from above" is pure because it thinks only pure thoughts, and it is peaceable because it does not dissociate itself from others on account of its pride. The other virtues mentioned here are the common possessions of any wise person, and they will manifest themselves in a life full of mercy and other good works."

This is the third time James has used the Greek word anothen [an'-o-then], which means "from above" or "again" (see Jam 1:17; 3:15 and 17).  In verse 17, our "wisdom" coming "down from above" which is "something pure" recalls another use of the word anothen found in the Gospel of St. John chapter 3.  In that passage, Jesus' told the Pharisee Nicodemus about the necessity of being re-born from "above": Amen, amen I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above (anothen)... Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit ... Do not be amazed that I told you, 'You must be born from above [anothen]' (Jn 3:3, 5, 7)In the context of the Gospel of John 3:3 and 7, and the passage concerning the gift of wisdom in Isaiah 11:1, this passage in James identifies "wisdom" as a gift of the Holy Spirit who came down from above (Heaven) to give new life to the baptized believer (see CCC# 1831).

Perhaps James is thinking of the Beatitude in Matthew 5:8 when Jesus spoke of the necessity for a "pure heart": Blessed are the clean (pure) of heart, for they will see God.  As we strive for Godly wisdom manifested in our works of love, the Holy Spirit continues to move more deeply within our hearts, spiritually transforming us into the image of our Savior—an image that calls for a pure and holy heart as our Savior is pure and holy.  We feel the need to empty ourselves of worldly attractions and concerns and to fill our entire being with the love of Jesus our Savior, becoming an imitation of Christ in our lives and in a faith which generates works of compassion.  Our cry becomes the cry of David the beloved's in Psalm 51:12 (verse 10 in some translations), A clean heart create for me, God; renew in me a steadfast spirit.

In his discourse On Nature and Grace, St. Augustine wrote about the wisdom from above that purifies the heart and controls our passions: "This is the wisdom which tames the tongue, descending from above, not springing from the human heart.  Would anyone dare to snatch it away from the grace of God and, with overweening pride, place it in the power of man?"

Notice how James characterizes the purity of Godly wisdom as opposed to earthly wisdom in James 3:17-18, listing the attributes of being peaceable, kindly, considerate, full of mercy and good deeds, no partiality and no hypocrisy.  Finally there is James' beautiful summary statement, 18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.

That the peace sown by peacemakers brings a harvest of justice immediately recalls Jesus' Beatitude concerning the peacemakers in Matthew 5:9, Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be recognized as children of God.  As children of God our Father, we follow in His footsteps of peace, offering ourselves as champions of justice and righteousness in the works of charity we offer in His name and in which we contribute to the "harvest" in the conversion of souls.  St. Bede in commenting on this passage urged Christians to sow the earth with the best seed to yield a fruitful harvest: "Everything we do in this life contains within it the seed of future regard.  Paul says the same thing when he writes: 'Whatever a man sows, that will he also reap.'  Therefore it is rightly said that the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.  For the fruit of righteousness is eternal life, which is the reward for good works, so that those who desire peace and implement it sow the earth with the best of seed there is, and by their daily actions gain an increase which entitles them to inherit the fruits of life in heaven.  The reprobates also reap what they sow, because they will also receive their just reward at the judgment.  But that reward will not be the fruits of eternal life, but corruption, because they will reap the eternal punishment due to the corruption in which they passed their lives on earth"  (St. Bede, quoting St. Paul from Galatians 6:7; Concerning the Epistle of St. James, chapter 3).

Next James contrasts the peace sown by peacemakers to the disharmony, disunity and turmoil sown by others in 4:1-3, Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from?  Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?  2 You covet but do not possess.  You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war.  3 You do not possess because you do not ask.  You ask but do not receive because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

James continues the discussion he began in 3:13-18 with a rhetorical question in which he asks, from where do the "wars" and from where do these "battles" within the community come?  A key question has to be to whom is James speaking at this point?  Is he only addressing Jewish-Christians or a mixed audience of Jewish-Christians and Old Covenant Jews?  The reference to "the 12 tribes," to "your synagogue," and to "those who insult the honorable name (of Jesus)" in James 1:1; 2:2 and 2:7 seems to suggest the audience is a mix of Jews and Jewish Christians who still attend the Jewish synagogue.

By using the words "wars" and "battles" James turns the discussion to the dissention and discord within faith communities generated by the sin of "envy/jealousy" that James introduced earlier in 3:14.  Now he says: 2 You covet but do not possess.  You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war.  In Romans 11:6 St. Paul spoke of the Jewish-Christians as a holy "remnant, set aside by grace" from old Israel.  And as to those Jews who were blinded so that the Gentiles could be brought into the covenant, Paul assures the Roman Jewish Christians and Gentiles that it is still possible to lead them to salvation: What am I saying is this: Was this stumbling to lead to their final downfall?  Out of the question!  On the contrary, their failure has brought salvation for the Gentiles, in order to stir them to envy.  And if their fall has proved a great gain to the world, and their loss has proved a great gain to the Gentiles—how much greater a gain will come when all is restored to them! (Rom 11:11-12 NJB).  It is possible that the discord James is referring to is the disunity and fighting between the Jewish communities that are torn apart over the question of acceptance or rejection of the New Covenant in Jesus of Nazareth.

In this passage James makes 3 statements identifying the cause of the disunity within some faith communities:

  1. they desire what they do not have
  2. they kill because they are filled with envy over what they cannot obtain
  3. they fight and wage war to get their way

This envy that leads to wars and battles also, according to James in 4:2, leads to "killings."  Bible scholars are divided as to what James meant by accusing the troublemakers of being responsible for "killings" (Jam 4:2).  The word "kill" might be used as dramatic language that illustrates the damage such divisions can cause to the immortal souls of those caught in the grip of such unrighteous bickering, or as other scholars suggest, if militant Jews caused rioting in the mixed Jewish/Christian community, Christians may be dying as a result of such unrest.  Paul's preaching caused a number of riots.  Even James was fearful that the controversy swirling around St. Paul would cause rioting when Paul visited Jerusalem in the spring of AD 58 in Acts 21:20-22.  Violent Jewish anti-Christian reactions almost took Paul's life on several occasions, and in the Book Acts, the Apostle James Zebedee was martyrdom by the Jews (Acts 12:2).  Jesus mentions the martyrdom His servant Antipas in Revelation 2:13.

The vices that seem to be the main cause of divisions with the community of God's people are pride, jealousy and the desire to control others.  James identifies the struggles that begin as the petty jealousies and rivalries we feel within ourselves which can erupt into conflicts within the community.  These battles are initiated by those who lack "poverty of spirit" (see Mt 5:2) and who exhibit instead pride, meanness of spirit, and a lack of self-sacrificial love.  St. Jose Maria Escriva wrote that unchecked these selfish passions can pull you away from the pull of God's grace: "Heaven pulls you upwards; you drag yourself downward.  And don't seek excuses—that is what you are doing.  If you go on like that, you will tear yourself apart" (St. Jose Maria Escriva, Furrow, 851).

St. James says that what causes the covenant believer who sows discord to indulge in his wrong directed passions is that he does not pray or when he does, he prays without wisdom: 3 You do not possess because you do not ask.  You ask but do not receive because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. This verse recalls James 1:5 ~ But if any of you who lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, he will be given it.  St. Bede wrote of such Christians, "He asks wrongly who shows no regard for the Lord's commandments and yet seeks heavenly gifts.  He also asks wrongly who, having lost his taste for heavenly things, seeks only earthly things—not for sustaining his human weakness but to enable him to indulge himself."  In Matthew 6:33 Jesus warned believers, But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.  Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.  Sufficient for a day is its own evil (Mt 6:33-34). To obtain the reward of eternal life should be our ambition, not earthly desires and ambitions; nor are we to be consumed with earthly worries.  When those desires bring strife to the Church and suffering to other Christians, what was a desire becomes a sin—a sin against individual brothers and sisters in the covenant family, and a sin against Christ's Bride the Church as a whole.

The Gospel of Mark 9:30-37 ~ The Second Prediction of the Passion and the Greatest in the Kingdom
30 They left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it.  31 He was teaching his disciples and telling them, "the Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death he will rise."  32 But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him.  33 They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, "What were you arguing about on the way?"  34 But they remained silent.  They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.  35 Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all."  36 Taking a child he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it he said to them, 37 "Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me."

As the time for His Passion was drawing closer, Jesus focused His attention on preparing His disciples for the traumatic events and the test of faith that they will experience.  He was also equipping them for taking up their mission as His emissaries in carrying the Gospel of salvation to the world.

32 But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him.
St. Mark's Roman audience would find it inconceivable that someone who was divine could be killed by men, just as the Apostles and disciples found Jesus' statement incredible.  Perhaps it wasn't so much that they did not understand but it was denial in that they did not want to understand.  We might compare this lack of comprehension or unwillingness to understand to someone who has received the news that a loved one is going to die of a disease or was killed in an accident.  They have seen Jesus' acts of power in conquering the force of storms and His authority over sickness and demons.  It was inconceivable to them that He would not exercise the same power and authority over mere men.

Mark 9:33-37 ~ The Greatest in the Kingdom
33 They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, "What were you arguing about on the way?"  34 But they remained silent.  They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.  35 Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all."  36 Taking a child he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it he said to them, 37 "Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me."

"On the way" will become a repeated refrain in this section of Mark's Gospel, but may not be translated literally in our English translation (see 8:37; 9:33, 34; 10:17, 32, 52 twice).  Jesus and the Apostles traveled to Peter's house in Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee (verse 33).  Perhaps the separation of the three from the other Apostles and their privilege of witnessing Jesus in His glory in the Transfiguration experience made the others uneasy about where they stand in the Kingdom of the Messiah.  Jesus knows what they were arguing about, but He wants them to admit to Him the nature of their dispute so He can provide a teaching moment for them.  They probably do not answer in verse 34 because they are embarrassed, and they know He will not approve.

In the secular world greatness is based on social rank, wealth, or a special ability.  But it is Jesus' teaching in this passage that those standards of greatness in the world are not what count in His Kingdom.  Jesus uses the visible metaphor of a little child from Peter's household as His teaching point.  The Greek word in the Biblical text is paidion, a word used to refer to a child under the age of twelve (IBGE, vol. IV, Luke 9:47-48).  He used a little child to illustrate His teaching point because adults are for the most part self-sufficient, but little children are vulnerable and completely dependent on someone else for their care or they cannot survive.  A little child has no concern for rank or status and only seeks to please his parent. Greatness in heaven is measured by child-like humility, obedience, self-emptying and total dependence on God.  Whoever is more child-like in this way is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Humility was a teaching Jesus emphasized for His New Covenant Kingdom in His Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:20-26 when he warned those who sought status instead of humility: Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way. 

The message in today readings is that we should not be afraid of what is said about us so long as we demonstrate justice and righteousness in obedience to the teachings of Christ and His Church.  The greatest persecution of the Church comes not from her enemies without, but arises from sin within the Church.  There will always be Judases.   Jesus called such persons "sheep in wolves' clothing" (Mt 7:15-16).  When we are persecuted for His sake for our service in defending the dogmas (truths) of His Kingdom that is the Church, Jesus said we are to take up our cross of suffering and Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.  Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Mt 5:12).

Catechism References:
James 4:2-3 (CCC 2737)
Mark 9:31-32 (CCC 557); 9:31 (CCC 474); 9:37 (CCC 1825)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015