We hear two Scripture stories today, this Twenty-Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, about the human attitude of “us and them.” In the First Reading from the Book of Numbers we hear the story of Moses dealing with the jealousy of his people about who “gets” (deserves?) to prophesy. While reflecting on this First Reading (Old Testament) and the Gospel for today, I was struck by the attitude of ‘ownership’ expressed by both the followers of Moses and Jesus, also. In both readings people complain that others who are not part of their “group” are doing good works in the name of the Lord. Moses and Jesus both try to make the people understand that God is not an exclusive possession. God is greater and larger in love, mercy and grace than we may define—yet we keep trying to own God—as if our way is the only way. This is the “them⎯and⎯us” attitude we find sometimes in our politics, families and yes, even our faith. Jesus tells us to cut away these offensive parts of us—eyes, hands and feet—while actually referring to sin, to envy and to deceit.
John in the Gospel story tells Jesus that someone else (besides them!) was driving out demons in Jesus’ name. They tried to stop him because this person wasn’t one of them… We hear Jesus reply: “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us…” Jesus clearly warns against this jealousy and intolerance toward others who are not of their “group.” These are timely words, as we find ourselves at this time so embroiled in division and special interests. The good that is done, is good and it doesn’t matter (or shouldn’t matter) who does it—if it is good—it should be supported.
The next section of the Gospel is obvious in its’ direction to us in dealing with our bad parts: cut away the part of us that is sinful; cut away the part of you that leads others to sin. I think this is a dire warning by Him, and the fact that it is coupled with the “us and them” admonition is no accident… Jesus is trying to get us to understand that we must look carefully at how we are led: that boundaries of exclusion should be taken down; that good works by “outsiders” and good “outsiders” should be accepted; that “insiders” who are actually doing unholy works should be expelled or “cut off.” Wow!
St. James this weekend is even scarier! He tells us: “Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries… He talks about justice for cheated workers; and about those who live in luxury and pleasure—that judgment will come to those who store up the wrong treasure for the last days. It is a dire warning regarding ownership: wealth rots; clothes molder; gold and silver corrodes. Remember the old saying: “You can’t take it with you…” Which “us and them” do you suppose St. James is writing about? I suspect a lot of us…many of us…
We are easily seduced by the perception of ownership; we are told and sold this idea constantly in the media and by the values are society evinces. It would be wiser to think spiritually about “ownership.” Instead of thinking we own the earth, better to think that we are the stewards of creation. Rather than thinking we own the only way to God, we rejoice that God’s Spirit is at work in all of His children. Rather than think we ‘own’ wealth and possessions, talents and abilities we should see these as the gifts and grace of God. Rather than think we ‘own’ positions of leadership in any community (or in any relationship of influence such as medical, parental, governmental, ecclesial): it would be better to understand these are positions of service.
Last week St. James told us that: “...the wisdom from above is first all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.” Remember the prayer of Moses today: “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow His Spirit on them all!” These are good words to ponder, and to follow—when storing up true treasure for heaven! There is a lot of food for thought in the readings for this week and a lot to pray about as we consider: our treasure, and who is “us” and who is “them.”
Just a Note: A song about Jesus as treasure…
This year, the Archdiocese of Detroit is celebrating Catechetical Sunday on September 19, 2021, with the theme “Disciples of Jesus: Witnesses of the Gospel.” On this special day we celebrate our catechists’ response to the Lord’s invitation to develop their own relationship with Jesus. Catechists teach us to recognize Jesus’ voice and invitation in our own lives so that we will grow as His disciples and witness his love and mercy in our world. We also celebrate our parents, grandparents, and guardians by recognizing their important role in teaching the faith. The parish community is encouraged to pray for all catechists who dedicate themselves to the mission of helping those they teach to hear the voice of Jesus and to grow in relationship with Him.
Prayer for Catechists
Lord, as our catechists respond to your call to serve you, we pray that you open their eyes, ears, mind, and heart to see you and to hear your voice so that they may be instruments of your love, mercy, and truth to those they teach. Use them, Lord, to help them experience a personal encounter with your Son, Jesus, so that they will become joyful witnesses of the Gospel in their daily lives, at work and at school, and in their families. Come, Holy Spirit, fill them with your gifts so that they may confidently serve those you send them this year. Amen.
Today is the Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time and St. James tells us clearly today how to start living the word. (I have already copied and enlarged this reading for my home use…) He is very clear about what it is to live in wisdom: it comes from above and is pure, peaceable, gentle, compliant and merciful. Wisdom is consistent and sincere in these things—and the result of a life of righteousness is peace! War and conflict are fruitless pursuits. “You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain…You ask but do not receive…” A bumper sticker I saw once says it succinctly: “No Jesus, No Peace. Know Jesus, Know Peace.”
I looked up the word ‘wisdom’ (thanks again, Webster) and here is the meaning: The accumulated philosophic or scientific learning (not applicable in this particular Scripture)—but the rest I read seems to apply. Wisdom: the ability to discern inner qualities and relationships; good sense and judgement; a wise attitude or course of action. This all sounds good to me—I pray for this wisdom always.
I think that today’s reading from St. James is one that should be published everywhere, carved on buildings and inscribed on our hearts. His letter also contains a very clear description of how we humans operate against God’s plans for us: “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.” It is our passion in ambition and in jealousy that foment conflict among us—along with greed and fear. All that you need to do is turn on the news and you will see this observation is very true.
We hear the story in the Gospel about the Disciples arguing on the way to Capernaum about who was the greatest. Can you imagine? Arguing! When Jesus questions them about the arguing they remain silent. They know; they must have known that this is not what belief in Jesus is about…
Today Jesus teaches the Disciples (and us) a lesson about living in God’s wisdom: Like St. James’ Letter He gives us directions to avoid ambition and jealousy—and thereby living a life of true service in Christ. He says: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” Jesus calls the Twelve and teaches them (and us) a lesson of living in His wisdom: “Whoever receives one child…in my name, receives me…” ‘Receiving a child’ is to give assistance to someone who may be helpless⎯and is usually unable to ever return your support in kind. It is the understanding that there will be no (earthly) payback, no investment, no (direct) return in helping someone with no resources. This, however, certainly describes what is expected of those who are baptized Disciples of Christ! To live a life in service of the helpless and powerless is to live a righteous life, to know Jesus and therefore to know His peace.
The readings today are about our stewardship of God’s generous gifts (the usage and the sharing), and all the ways we may live our lives as true believers. (They’ll Know We Are Christians by our love and by our labor and behavior.) The “reward” for true Christian acts is wisdom and peace, and more importantly: eternal life and a place at the table. For the Healing of the Nations, you must be a channel of God’s peace and wisdom, and of God’s unconditional love. Now Go Forward!
Just a Note: Here is a song about the Wisdom of God.
Today is the Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time. In the Gospel Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” We answer this question by our witness: all our actions, our priorities, our service, our love and forgiveness for each other. We daily take up our cross and lift it high. Our time, talent and treasure are consigned to God and the Kingdom on earth. (I once heard a cynic say: “I’d rather see a sermon, than hear one.”)
St. James reminds us today that faith without works is dead. We should know that it is not enough to just believe, and to show up for church every Sunday—those actions are not enough to be our best selves and to be part of God’s intentions for us. We must live the Gospel—witness the Gospel in the world— commissioned by our Baptism to “teach” by our own personal examples of commitment to our faith by our actions in love, forgiveness, charity and sacrifice.
Sacrifice is always the challenge for us: to be tired but to visit an aged relative anyway; to rise in the night when worm out from work to comfort a terrified child; to go to work and support your family even when the work is soul-killing; to put aside what we enjoy doing to take care of needed chores and tasks…the list is endless. All our moments are about how we choose to spend them—and they show who we are and what we believe. Jesus in the Gospel today accuses us of “not thinking as God does, but as human beings do.” We are called to “Lift High the Cross” in moments of self-denial that show who we are as His disciples. This is never easy—but we must continue being practicing Christians in all we say and do.
I looked up the word sacrifice (thank you, Webster) and found this: an act of offering to God something precious; to surrender something for the sake of something (or someone) else… On the way to sacrifice I passed by sacred and thought how in our faith these two ideals are conjoined. Christ gave the ultimate sacrifice and we are called to emulate that example in the many ways we can—although it is not often that we see a sacrifice to the death. (Thank you to those military persons who lost their lives in Afghanistan helping others to leave the country!) Any sacrifice made for others is sacred—offered up to God—even the every day small things we do for each other.
The sign of the cross always reminds us of the emblem of our belief. We begin all liturgical and Para-liturgical celebrations, blessings, and prayers with this sign. In Baptism we are signed by the cross, we are anointed with it in Confirmation and in the Sacrament of the Sick. On Ash Wednesday we make the sign of the cross in ashes on our foreheads. We understand we must follow Jesus’ example and take up our own cross in order to live lives of hope—to live in the new life we are promised, making those sacred sacrifices to which we are called.
We gather today in the midst of all joy, sorrow, gratitude, and burden. Each day we are given the opportunity to lift our crosses high; this symbol of our salvation whose mark we carry. We believe in its power to destroy death and restore life. This is the core of our faith; to embrace the cross and its ability to transform death into life.
Our final hymn today (Lift High the Cross) has a verse that says: “Each newborn fol’lwer of the Crucified, bears on the brow the seal of him who died. Lift high the cross! The cross of Christ proclaim!” To paraphrase the “Workbook for Lectors and Gospel Readers” (another Liturgical Ministry!), we must grow up as Christians and step beyond just trying to be good people; we must also be good for people. How to do this? Sacre sacrifices. Lift High the Cross!
Just a Note: Time is passing and flying quickly by—please don’t forget to seriously discern your mission and ministry here at St. Aidan. All our Staff is looking for committed volunteers for all of the liturgical groups and ensembles. Consider joining and sharing your gifts and talents! I am looking for interested singers for my ensembles (both the young and the youthful), for instrumentalists (particularly another guitarist or two and a bassist). Please come and see me: make a joyful sacrifice of time to enhance our St. Aidan worship.
Another Note: Here is a song about sacrifice, enjoy!
David J. Conrad, M.A. Theology. Our Director of Faith Formation.