First Reading: Wisdom 2:12, 17-30
Psalm 54:3-4, 5, 6, 8
Second Reading: James 3:16 – 4:3
Gospel: Mark 9:30-37
Until the mid-term elections are over, I think I have to fast from watching TV. I can’t view one more candidate claim to be more righteous than the other candidate, as if saying it often enough makes it so. And the thing is, these aren’t bad folks. They just have a different view of how the system/government/business should work. And they think they are more correct than the other candidate. I think about these opposing sides as I read this Sunday’s readings. Whether the “wicked” in Wisdom or the passions in James or the misguided disciples in Mark-the all or nothing attitude serves no one well.
The reading from Wisdom reads like a Suffering Servant Song from Isaiah, but from the perspective of the wicked. Whereas the Suffering Servant speaks of his trials at the hands of the ungodly, here the wicked reveal their motivation for attacking the righteous: “he sets himself against our doings…., reproaches us…, and charges us” (Wis 2:12). Sounds like the author of Wisdom has seen the same political ads that I’ve been watching. After the speech of the wicked, the subject turns to the hidden counsels of God. The author of Wisdom upbraids the wicked who failed to consider the recompense for holiness or the reward for innocent souls (Wis 2:22). Would that we all follow the author’s example and seek wisdom, for “whatever is hidden or plain I learned, for Wisdom, the artisan of all, taught me” (Wis 7:21-22).
The reading from the Letter of James also focuses on the wicked, but not as outside opponents. Here the vices of jealousy, selfish ambition, conflicts, envy, killing, and war emerge from one’s passions (Jas 4:1). The Greek is actually better translated as “pleasures.” But pleasure per se isn’t the problem, according to James. Rather, it is how one goes about achieving that pleasure. “You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly” (Jas 4:3). The Christian is to be a lover of God and not a lover of the world (Jas 4:4).
Our gospel reading doesn’t directly pit the wicked against the wise, but it does show how our expectations and aspirations can be wrongly focused.
Jesus predicts his passion and resurrection three times in the Gospel of Mark (8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34; and paralleled in Matthew and Luke). In response to each announcement, the disciples misunderstand (8:32-33; 9:32, 33-34; 10:35-41) necessitating a teaching on discipleship by Jesus (8:34-9:1; 9:35-37; 10:42-45). In today’s Gospel, Jesus again speaks of his coming passion, but the disciples not only don’t understand, they don’t even ask for clarification. Rather, they begin to argue among themselves about who is the greatest. Perhaps the disciples are wondering who among them would take the lead after Jesus’ death. It’s like they’re planning their campaign strategy.
In response, Jesus upsets their expectations. The leader is one who serves. To punctuate his teaching, Jesus takes a child (one without legal standing or status in the both the Jewish and Greco-Roman society) and charges the disciples, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me” (Mark 9:37).
Perhaps our candidates for public office would do well to heed Jesus’ example. Imagine the good that could be done for the little ones in our midst if all those campaign dollars were reappropriated for the betterment of our society and not the promotion of one’s agenda. At the least, I could go back to watching TV.
Professor of New Testament Studies
Director of the Certificate in Biblical Spirituality
Chair, Department of Biblical Literature and Languages