Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Challenging Gift of Correction

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Readings: Wisdom 2:12,17-20; Psalm 53 (54):3-6,8; James 3:16-4:3; Mark 9:30-37

Picture: cc Martin Hricko

My dear friends, have you ever gone the wrong way without realising it? Maybe you make a wrong turn while walking or driving, or you board the wrong train. Whatever it is, you unwittingly end up heading in a wrong direction… How would you react, if someone were to point out to you your mistake?

I ask, because this is more or less the kind of situation in which the disciples of Jesus find themselves in the gospel. Although they appear to be travelling along the same geographical route as Jesus – through Galilee, and into Capernaum – the reading makes it clear that the disciples are walking a very different spiritual path from their Master.

To see the difference we have only to compare what they and Jesus talk about. For the second time in Mark’s gospel, Jesus speaks movingly about being delivered into the hands of men, for the sake of the gospel. The disciples, however, argue among themselves about which of them is the greatest. What a sharp contrast between the self-sacrificing love of the Lord, and the self-promoting competition among his friends!

We find the same contrast in the first reading. Where the righteous life of the virtuous man attracts the anger of the godless, who make plans to test him with cruelty and with torture. Much like how the enemies of Jesus will test him, eventually subjecting him to a shameful death on the Cross.

The second reading then gives us a fuller picture of these two opposing spiritual itineraries, by tracing the external actions of both the virtuous and the godless, back to their respective roots. Disharmony, and wicked things of every kind, are traced back to jealousy and ambition, and all other disordered desires fighting inside the human heart. Whereas peace and kindness, consideration and compassion for others flow out from within those who allow themselves to be filled with the wisdom that comes down from above. The Wisdom personified by Jesus himself.

All of which enables us to better appreciate the precious gift that Jesus is offering his disciples. By asking them to review their argument on the road, the Lord is helping them to realise that they are on the wrong path. But, understandably, the disciples find it hard to accept this gift. Isn’t this why their first reaction to the Lord’s question is an embarrassed silence? So the Lord responds by inviting them to become more like little children. To be less afraid of admitting one’s own error, and to be more willing to rely on the merciful guidance of God.

And what about us? On the long difficult road of pandemic life that we have been walking together, there are surely many opportunities for both selfless sacrifice and selfish ambition. How is the Lord inviting us – as individuals and families, as church and society – to review our words and actions, our desires and motivations, so as to uncover the moments when we may have inadvertently taken the wrong path?

Sisters and brothers, what must we do to better accept the Lord’s precious yet challenging gift of correction today?