Homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
When I was still in the classroom many years ago, the children would often ask me as to why Jesus would tell his disciples not to tell anyone after He gave sight to the blind, made the deaf hear, or even brought someone back to life. How else were people going to believe that He was the Son of God, the Messiah. If Jesus were alive today, living in these crazy times, I think He would still be someone who was going about doing good deeds. He would be someone who would offer to buy groceries for a single mother whose food stamps had run so she could feed her children or would fill someone’s car with gas so they could get to their first job in months, or buy school supplies for some needy kids so they would be prepared to start the new school year, but I firmly believe that Jesus wouldn’t want any press release, no headlines, no advertising, no twitter feed and no facebook postings.
Jesus was more about up-ending the conventional wisdom of what it means to be the greatest or to be first or number one. As He travelled from town to town with his disciples, it was for the purpose of exposing them to different cultures, people of varying means, and to learn from Him that they were all (Jew or Gentile) to be served in the same way. Not even money, position or prestige could influence Jesus to measure some people more worthy than others. The lesson for His followers, who seemed more concerned as to who of them was the greatest, was about service and love vs. position, power and greed.
Jesus took them away from the crowds so He could continue teaching them about what is most important. Once again, he tells them that He is going to Jerusalem where He will suffer and be crucified. However, He always adds “but on the third day I will rise again”. There is always a promise of HOPE after the suffering. Most Christians like everything about Jesus, except the hard parts. Like losing your own friends, being rejected and, of course, suffering and dying on a cross. The message of hope and the promise of the Resurrection is lost on most of us. Over the past year and many months, we have been living through and experiencing a horrific pandemic of global proportions. We are sick and tired of living under the fear of this modern day plague. It is easy for us at this stage to fall back on our egos which seeks immediate gratification and despises anything hard or uncomfortable. We want a quick fix. If only we could go back to the old days, or if only we could leap into the future where there is no Covid. Let me say this: the past, present and future matter, but our experience of God is tied to how fully we live in each moment and the only moment we have is the present. Yes, even in a pandemic, even when there is so much upheaval, so much disparity, and evil in the world let us remember the words in the Letter of Saint James: “Where jealousy and selfish ambitions exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.”
This Sunday’s gospel focuses on one of the less elegant moments for Jesus’ followers. In recent weeks Peter has professed his belief that Jesus is the messiah. Some of them have witnessed the transfiguration and all have seen him healing the deaf, giving speech to someone who hadn’t been able to speak, and, raising the dead to life.
We expect their experiences might hold the disciples in a permanent attitude of amazement. But they couldn’t hold onto these moments. We find them breathtakingly small-minded. Jesus wanted to take them away from the crowds to continue teaching them what is most important. Once again, he tells them that he is going to Jerusalem to suffer and to be crucified. However, he always adds but on the third day I will rise again. There is always a promise of hope after the suffering.
As we listen to today’s readings, rather than wonder at the disciples’ thickheadedness, we might examine our own attitudes about power, service and love. As they walked about from town to town, the disciples were talking about who is the greatest. In Jesus’ time, as in ours, people who want to be first often brag about how much money and talent or how many influential friends, they have. Often this climbing the ladder or perceived prestige is at the expense of others. Jesus was about up-ending the conventional wisdom of what it means to be first.
He brought a little child into their midst. In the ancient world children were invisible, non-people of little consequence. They were not the cherished little cherubs pictured in traditional paintings.
Jesus took the child in his arms and challenged the disciples concerning their basic beliefs about first and last. In Jesus company the invisible become visible, servants are first, and those with higher status fade into the background. Who are the “least” in our lives today?
As the world experiences fires, floods, hurricanes, and a covid pandemic, who among us is first and who is last? How many unrecognized heroes are there in each of these scenarios? There are the firefighters battling to save homes and lives, volunteers with boats and rafts going house to house to rescue those clinging to the roofs of their homes waiting to be rescued, the volunteers who provide food and water as well as a respite for these “frontline workers”. How many medical personnel have been working day and night to save the lives of those in their care, keeping safe those here in our infirmary? Of all these tireless, unselfish persons whose names we may never know, who is “the greatest”? Who are the people in our everyday lives who work behind the scenes to make our lives better?
Today, we are invited to walk the road with Jesus and his thickheaded disciples, praying that we, too, can learn the invincible and irresistible attractive power of self-giving love. Then, we, too, can look forward to the promise of the resurrection following the difficult times we might be facing at this time.
For us, though, the big question is how do live last in a “me-first” world?
Agnes Ann Schum 9/19