FR DOM'S HOMILY
Year B 2021
25th Sunday in Ordinary time
In the Gospels, Jesus was always on the move; and it appears that he was heading to Jerusalem. Now, Jerusalem was the place he was crucified. There is something peculiar as he was telling his disciples of how the Son of Man would die. He did this while he was on his way to Jerusalem through Galilee. It reflects what his mission was all about and where it was heading – to the cross. Jesus’ ministry, life and mission involves a dying that will lead to life, a life that means body broken, and blood poured out to give life to the world.
After Peter’s confession of faith that he is the Christ, Jesus told the disciples that the Son of Man would die an excruciating death on a cross. Six days later, he took Peter, James and John up on a high mountain and was transfigured. He brought them down the mountain to face the challenges of the day with the other disciples. There, people were already waiting for him so that he can heal the sick. A man who was deaf and dumb was brought to him and he healed him. And when they left there through Galilee and hiding from the people, Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of his enemies, he will be put to death, and he will be raised to life after three days. His disciples didn’t understand this, and they were afraid to ask him about it. Instead, they were busy arguing who was the greatest among them. After all that Jesus had taught them about where his mission was heading, their priority was who will be the greatest among them. They missed the point of what he has been teaching them all along. This is where our Gospel was situated today.
It is very fascinating to know their priorities, - who was the greatest, the first among them. It may sound absurd to us now, but that is precisely how many of us have ordered our lives. We think that for us to know our worth, we have to put others down to feel great. If we can just put them one click below us, then we can feel good that we are better than them. This has become the bane of our society, people crushing others to get to the point. We naïvely believe that to get to the top we have to crush others beneath us. Society tells us that to be the first and the greatest, we have to crush others below us. That might be the way of the world, a product of the conversational wisdom, but that is not the way of God which is the way of the cross.
The wisdom tradition tells us that the way to the top is the way down, or the way down is the way up. It is the way of the cross, the way of sacrificial love. This is why Jesus said to the disciples that if you want to be the first, you have to take the last place, and be the servant of all. He taught them this by picking up a little child and asking them to embrace a childlike character. At this time, children were not regarded as much. It was a very classed society that valued men, women, children and slaves in that order. A man always stood in a spotlight, but now, Jesus put the spotlight on a child. This is rather strange, controversial, and counterintuitive, but it is the way that takes you to the top before God. It is the way of sacrificial love, the way of the cross. A dying that will lead to life, a sacrifice that could heal others, and a downward path that leads upward.
The way that goes downward and ultimately leads to the top is something many of us disdain, because it doesn’t make sense to the conventional mind. Richard Rohr describes this in his book Falling Upward by saying: “We do not want to embark on a further journey if it feels like going down, especially after we have put so much sound and fury into going up (p. xix).” Just like the disciples were caught up with the idea of getting to the top above others by following Jesus, sometimes we are like the disciples thinking that being a Christian is to make us feel that we are better than others. In a way, we put others down by feeling morally superior because they have not got their acts together. The way of the cross means that we have to die to all those things so that we can rise up to new life. To think that Jesus would settle a dispute among his disciples with a promotion of a childlike character is a clear indication of what his Kingdom is all about – sacrificial love. It is a downward pattern of sacrifice that gives lives to others, not take their lives away. Rohr further said in the book, “Such a down-and-then-up perspective does not fit into our Western philosophy of progress, nor into our desire for upward mobility, nor into our religious notions of perfection or holiness (p. xxi).” He asserts that: “Losing, failing, falling, sin, and the suffering that comes from those experiences – all of this is a necessary and even good part of the human journey (p. xx).” God works through all of them.
When we are caught up with the bad spirit of getting to the top so that we can feel good about ourselves and better than others, it breads disharmony and all kinds of wicked things. This is because the motivating spirit behind them is jealously, envy and wicked ambition. St James highlights this in our second reading by saying: “Wherever you find jealously and ambition, you find disharmony, and wicked things of every kind being done; whereas the wisdom that comes down from above is essentially something pure; it also makes for peace, and is kindly and considerate; it is full of compassion and shows itself by doing good….”
So may you my friend, embrace the wisdom that comes from above by doing good. And in doing good, may you follow the not-so-popular downward movement that leads to the top, because it is only in dying that you are born to new life.
And may God bless you!