(Wisdom 2,12.17-20; James 3,16-4,3; Mark 9, 30-37; 25 th Sunday: Year B)

The readings of this Sunday offer us some points to reflect on. In the first of the two episodes of the gospel reading, Jesus, identifying himself as the mysterious Son of Man who comes on the clouds to announce the end of one age and the beginning of another, tells his closest associates that he will be handed over and killed but that he will rise from the dead after three days. That the disciples did not understand is not surprising. What is surprising is their reluctance to question him about it. Were they afraid to know what it all meant? Afraid to hear some of the terrifying details? Afraid of the implications that his suffering may have for their own lives? Jesus merely announces his fate. He neither describes nor explains it. This prediction happened while they were traveling through Galilee. However, this was not the only exchange that took place on the way to Capernaum. The second episode of the gospel reports that, although, the disciples could not comprehend what Jesus said about his death and resurrection, they were able to engage in a heated discussion about status within the community. Jesus had just admitted his ultimate vulnerability, and they were quarrelling about rank. This shows that they were not only insensitive to his plight but they were also competitive among themselves. Without reprimanding them, Jesus seized the opportunity to teach an important lesson: following his own example, those who would be first must be willing to be last. In the world of Jesus’ time, neither servants nor children had any legal rights or social status. They were like women, dependent on the good will of the male head of the household. In this instruction Jesus turns the social ranking system upside down. He maintains that those who hold the highest positions within the community must be willing to take the lowest place. They must be the servants of all. He then offers himself as an example of one who empties himself for the sake of others. He does this by identifying with the subordinate status of a child. He then traces the connections he has just drawn back to God: whoever receives those who hold the lowest social positions receives Jesus, and those who receive Jesus receive the one who sent him. The disciples and we have much to learn.

The readings of today also invite us to consider some of the features of righteousness and the fate of those who are considered righteous. Who is just according to the book of Wisdom? It is he who believes in God and seeks to do the will of God, what is right in his eyes, and not what could turn into his advantage. He is meek and not arrogant, suffers adversity with fortitude and reposes his faith in God. In the new Testament, especially in the Letter of James, the just is one who is versed in the wisdom that comes from above. This sort of wisdom is pure, totally committed to the things of God; it is peaceable, drawing the members of the community together in unity; it is fruitful, producing good works in abundance and seeks the right order of things. The righteous person also conceives life not selfishly but as a donation of oneself and putting oneself at the service of neighbour in love. In the New Testament, Jesus is the righteous one par excellence. He did no wrong, not even at his trial even at great provocation; he did all things well, as the gospel attests. Today, nevertheless, he predicts his passion in the gospel reading: he will be killed by the wicked because his conducts are reproaches to them and his teaching unmasks their hypocrisy and exposes their evil plans.

How is righteousness perceived today? This is a question that holds little interest for many people. They would be more concerned with knowing who are the successful or the famous. In a world rife with jealousy and selfish ambition, righteousness is not a quality that is highly prized. We want people to be honest, at least in their dealings with us, but we are more apt to applaud those who are clever. We commend people who know how to make a good deal, get ahead, and strike it rich. We extol the beautiful, the strong, the self-assured, those who have made names for themselves and those who entertain us. We encourage people to be ambitious and to think of themselves first. Seldom is one’s popularity based on righteousness. On the other hand, righteousness is one of the pillars upon which the reign of God is established. Those who would enter that reign must be gentle and merciful, faithful and sincere. They must be lovers of peace. The righteous must be willing to take the last place and be the servant of all. As Jesus is the righteous par excellence we must look to him for an authentic portrait of righteousness.

What is the fate of the righteous? Because righteousness itself is not highly valued in our society, those who are righteous are not often held in high regard. They may even be considered obnoxious. In fact, they are often ridiculed and even persecuted. When they are considered a reproach to the standards of society, they may even be put to death. Such treatment is difficult to bear when it comes from an outsider, but it is particularly bitter when the one who is striking out at the righteous person is someone close at hand, a colleague, a neighbour or a member of the family. There are times when we might be inclined to envy and resentment. We do not want to feel that we are morally inferior to others, and so we (like the wicked of the first reading) relish the opportunity of putting their virtue to the test. We may say that we want to draw forth their strengths, but we may really hope that their weaknesses will be revealed and they will prove to be no better than we are. Sometimes the righteous have nowhere else to turn but to Jesus, whose life they are following and into whose death they have been plunged. Let us, therefore, in today’s Eucharistic celebration beg almighty God for the grace to take after Jesus Christ, the righteous par excellence, by following him in his passion and imitating his humility, though the greatest yet stooped down to serve the lowest.

Happy Sunday!

+John I. Okoye

About Our church

The people of Awgu geographical circumscription were a deeply religious people; who before the advent of Christianity in Igboland had a common religious heritage of a belief in One, Unseen, Omnipotent God. This Almighty God was referred to as Ali Awgu (the Awgu earth goddess).

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