September 17, 2012 | Volume 87, Number 23
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B)
September 23, 2012
Wis: 2:12, 17-20
Ps 54:3-4, 5, 6,
“If I had been there, I wouldn’t have reacted that way.”
“I would have known better and never have doubted what Jesus said.”
“I can’t believe the disciples and apostles of Jesus just didn’t get it. What were they thinking?”
Expressions like these often spring up in Bible discussion groups when a passage from the Gospels is studied. Our reaction to this coming Sunday’s Gospel reading is probably no different.
Jesus discusses his upcoming death and then says he will rise on the third day from death. Mark then writes: “But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to ask him.”
So what did the disciples do? They argued which one of them was the greatest! Is it possible they did not want to hear that their leader, their hero, their thought-to-be Messiah would die?
What better to do than change the subject and discuss who was the greatest disciple! After all, no one really expected the Messiah, the Savior, would have to die. Would you and I not want to say? “If I had been there, I wouldn’t have reacted that way.” Or, “I would have known better and never have doubted what Jesus said.”
In the Gospel Jesus then answers the disciples questioning “who is the greatest.” Jesus simply states: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be last of all and the servant of all.”
Once again, is it possible the disciples did not want to hear that their leader, their hero, their thought-to-be Messiah called for you and me to be a servant?
Only in hindsight did the disciples understand that Jesus had to die and that he did rise from the dead. Only in hindsight did the disciples understand that the Kingdom Jesus announced was a kingdom where everyone was a servant to everyone else.
Hindsight? Was it only an intellectual “putting the pieces together” that the disciples did? Their eyes and hearts were only opened when they received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Please note two words in that last sentence: Gift and Holy Spirit.
We frequently forget that faith is first and foremost a gift from God. True hindsight about who Jesus was is a faith statement — a statement based on the “gift of faith.” Secondly it is the Holy Spirit working in our lives who is the one who opens our eyes and hearts.
It is not first and foremost what we do, but rather responding to the gift of faith and letting the Holy Spirit open our hearts and minds.
Without the gift of faith and the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we will say: “If I had been there, I wouldn’t have reacted that way.” Or, “I would have known better and never have doubted what Jesus said.” Or, “I can’t believe the disciples and apostles of Jesus just didn’t get it. What were they thinking?”
With the eyes and hearts of faith enlivened and enriched by the Holy Spirit, we will act in a way that we “shall be last of all and the servant of all.” Only with the gift of faith and the Holy Spirit will we be able to respond differently.
The need for civility
A friend of mine who is a nun and fellow journalist asked me to write a column on civility. But my immediate response was that civility didn’t really apply to the social justice and peace theme of my column.
But then the obvious hit me.
I thought how can we hope to build a world where everyone has a fair share of the goods of the earth, has his or her human rights fully respected, and where violence surrenders to nonviolent love if we cannot even talk and act with civility to each other?
So, just like the school boy I once was at Our Lady of Pompei, I said “Yes, sister!”
Webster defines civility as politeness; kind attention; good breeding. Just the sound of these words makes one begin to feel good, peaceful and hopeful.
But it is sad to note that in our society rudeness and even downright meanness are now more common than civility.
It has become the norm to be disagreeable; and disagreeable in a nasty manner at that.
The art of respectful dialogue has all but disappeared in serious private and public discourse. From the intractability in Congress, to talk radio, to the family interaction, consistent respectful discourse has become almost nonexistent.
I once heard the late American President Gerald Ford respond to a heckler by saying that we must learn to disagree without being disagreeable.
Even in the Catholic Church civility is often lacking.
I have worked at various levels in five dioceses, and have found genuine politeness and kind attention to be less than common among many employees – both clergy and laity.
And over the years, my social justice and peace column has generated many mean-spirited responses.
This rudeness and unkindness is hurtful not only to individuals, but to the whole body of Christ. And it greatly weakens the church’s ability to proclaim to the world the justice, peace, and love of Christ the Savior.
In his book “Choosing Civility,” Dr. P.M. Forni, director of The Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins University, shares that an important aspect of civility is the art of being agreeable.
He writes, “One major area of everyday life to grace with agreeableness is that of conversation. Respect for others entails having an essentially welcoming attitude toward the words they address to us. This means, among other things, that contradicting for its own sake should be banned as utterly uncivil. There are two fundamental abilities to cultivate in order to be agreeable in conversation.
- The ability to consider that you might be wrong.
- The ability to admit that you don’t know.
“At any given moment, on any issue, there is the possibility that you might be wrong and someone else might be right. Keep that possibility in mind.
Then, if you realize that you are wrong, find the strength to acknowledge it openly. Do so graciously, without harboring resentment toward the person who happens to be right.”
A humble, honest search for the truth, with knowledge that none of us possess the whole truth, is a virtuous journey all of us should be on.
Saint Paul’s words to the Colossians ring as true today as they did nearly 2,000 ago: “But now you must get rid of . . . anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language. . . As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”
Are you out of your mind?
A funny thing happened on the way to church this morning. The license plate on the car in front of us posed an interesting question: “Y B SANE.”
At first glance the light hearted query seemed silly, but as I listened to the readings during Mass, I decided there was a clear correlation between the two messages.
The first reading, taken from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, began with a similar consideration.
“If anyone thinks he is wise in the worldly way, he had better become a fool. In that way he will be truly wise, for the wisdom of this world is absurdity with God.” (I Cor. 18-19)
Paul’s message to the Corinthians was not meant simply as a way to get the attention of his audience, it was at the very heart of discipleship.
According to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, when Jesus began His public life His first words were: “Reform your lives; the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
For Jesus, a change of heart was not an option. It was a prerequisite for all who long for the reign of God.
Jesus’ declaration that if one is to hear the Word of God, there must first be a change of heart was very much in keeping with the Hebrew understanding of the word heart. Jews did not associate the word heart with the physical body, nor even with the word love as is common in our culture.
Jews associated the word heart with the mind, and so the Greek word, “Metanoia” offers a much clearer understanding of what Jesus meant when He commanded his followers to reform their lives.
According to ancient Greek etymology, meta means to go beyond and nous means mind. Therefore, to go beyond one’s mind is to transcend the small mindedness of ordinary thinking. It means entering the larger world.
For people of faith this means thinking with the mind of God.
Obviously we will never attain this perfectly, but if we are to reform our lives, we must leave our small, petty ways of thinking behind. Recall Jesus’ reprimand to Peter, “Get behind me satan. You are trying to make me trip and fall. You are not judging by God’s standards but by man’s.” (Matt 16: 23)
To be converted means to align our standards with those of God, and Jesus gave us those standards in the Beatitudes. During the sermon on the Mount, Jesus turned conventional wisdom upside down. Non-believers would proclaim such thinking madness and many walked away. He was altogether too much for them; some might say he was out of His mind.
And so you see, the question Y B SANE actually has a Scriptural basis. It is what Father Ronald Rolheiser refers to as moving from paranoia to metanoia or from fear to trust.
Having worked in the field of psychiatry for the first half of my adult life, I’ve often pointed to the Gospels as the best psychology book ever written. The Gospels have preserved for us not only the life and teachings of Jesus, but they provide a wonderful illustration of human foibles and failings.
Speaking from a psychological perspective, for healing to occur, a “breakdown” must be followed by a positive psychological shift. In the Gospels most of the failings involve the apostles, those chosen few who were closest to Christ. The lesson, of course, is obvious.
Being a disciple of Jesus does not guarantee perfection, but invites us to walk with Jesus and to learn from Him and from His followers so we can be healed. The Gospels invite us to experience a psychological shift in the way we see ourselves and our life.
One lesson we learn from the apostles is that neither human weakness nor ignorance is a match for God’s love. We see this in Peter, who’s stumbling, bumbling and cowardice give us hope, because no matter how far he fell, Peter knew he had only to turn to Jesus and he would be healed.
It’s that kind of childlike trust that would lead Peter to exclaim, “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.”
Jesus could have chosen stronger and more able men to be his apostles, but then he wouldn’t be thinking as God thinks. If we look at the history of the Israelite people, God seems to have a penchant for choosing the weakest and most unlikely to carry his message to his people. God could never think as humans think — He is so far beyond us… and yet, the very fact that He loved us enough to die for us should bring us to our knees.
Jesus came from God and he went back to God. In so doing, He took off the mantle of majesty and donned the apron of a servant. And after washing the feet of his disciples, the Son of God offered Himself as food and drink.
Then He stretched out His arms on the cross and died. Our senses were opened, but the healing continues.
And so we pray, may all who have eyes to see and ears to hear open their minds to all that the Triune God desires to reveal to those who love Him.