Browsing Homilies

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wis 2:12, 17-20 | Ps 54 | Jas 3:16-4:3 | Mk 9:30-37

Have any of us known a time when there have been as many divisions in society as there are today? The world is just about evenly divided between people who think one way and people who think another. We can’t seem to talk to each other about the issues that matter most without it ending in a shouting match. You don't not have an opinion on the current Administration or the previous one.  And the pandemic has only made matters worse. You don't not have an opinion on masks. There are those who think they're ridiculous, and others who think space suits wouldn't be enough protection. We can’t even agree on what we should be doing to keep each other safe. Politics seem to have infiltrated every area of our lives. It has even divided families so much that siblings don’t speak to each other and people don’t show up to holiday dinners or family gatherings. And all of us probably know people we avoid because we don’t want to hear their political views.

Though the situation might be particularly dire now, in-fighting among people is nothing new. Even in the earliest days of the Church, people disagreed with each other and were divided about their beliefs. Today’s second letter from Saint James is one of the oldest writings of the New Testament and it speaks to the very situation we are experiencing today. He tells us that conflicts come from our passions; that is, from our desires for comfort, pleasure, power, and possessions. We fight among each other because we fear that our neighbor is a threat to our well-being. We see others as competitors rather than family. We are holding on so tightly to what we have that we cannot extend a hand to our brothers and sisters in their need. It is up to us who are followers of Jesus to lead the way to unity and healing in our society. The good news that we proclaim: that all of us have been redeemed by Christ, that all of us are loved unconditionally by God the Father, and that all human beings have infinite dignity, is the foundation for real community among all people. It is a truth that we can never fail to proclaim. It is a truth that we can never fail to live by showing love to everyone and treating all persons with the dignity they deserve as children of God.

In particular, Jesus teaches us how we are to act in today’s gospel. “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” That is the secret to healing the animosity and fear that so many in our society are experiencing. Jesus is asking us to stop competing among ourselves, to stop putting each other down, to stop treating each other as enemies. He’s calling us instead to listen to each other, serve each other, and treat each other as sisters and brothers.

What would it look like if we were to put Jesus’ words into actions in our everyday lives?

To seek the last place means that we are not looking for recognition or applause. It means that we put aside any need to impress others or win their approval. When people overlook us and choose others over us, we can be comfortable with that. We don’t need to lash out whenever someone offends us. Neither do we insist on having our opinions heard or having our way. We are capable of listening to and understanding others because we have no agenda other than doing what is best for the community.

People who seek the last place don't need to be seen with the powerful or the wealthy. When at a party, or any social gathering, they might seek out the person who is hardest to talk to and least attractive. Instead of asking, “what’s in it for me?” they ask themselves, “what can I do to help?” They are happy to work behind the scenes, without recognition. They don’t look to be rewarded for what they do but are just happy to help.

Humble people, like little children, realize that they don’t have all the answers. They don’t have to be right all the time. They realize that many of the things they believe may be wrong. Instead of constantly dictating their opinion to others, they try to learn from people who are different from them. They never write people off because they have beliefs that they don’t agree with. They never look down on others. Rather, they strive to convince people by showing them love because they value friendship and unity so highly. A humble person would rather be humiliated than humiliate another person.

These are the types of attitudes and behaviors that Jesus is asking of us when he calls us to seek the last place rather than the first place. These are the attitudes and behaviors Jesus himself showed during his lifetime and, especially, when faced with his own humiliating death. And it is just these attitudes and behaviors that can heal our society and restore our unity.

The fact is that, as believers, we have all the truths which people need for their salvation. But if we are arrogant in preaching those truths, people won’t listen. We can talk about the love of God all we want, but if we are not loving people, no one will believe us. President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” If we let divisiveness, partisanship, and racism poison our hearts and cloud our vision, then we can’t speak the truth of the gospel in a convincing way.

The world needs the Christian witness of love today more than ever. If people are at each other’s throats today, it’s because they have lost hope. By our witness to the love of God, we can give them a reason to believe. It begins with the way we treat people. None of us has all the answers, but we can stand by the side of people who are suffering, we can hold the hand of the lonely, and we can give our bread to the poor. The world is facing more problems than any of us can solve, but we can listen to people in distress, we can stand up for those who are treated unjustly, and we can lift up our voices in prayer to the God who hears the cry of the poor. We can do all that if the love of God is in our hearts. And we can be assured that God’s love is in our hearts if we approach Him as His beloved daughters and sons, confident that He cares for us no matter what.


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