September 23, 2012 - Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wisdom 2.12, 17-20
Psalm 54.3-8
James 3:16-4.3
Mark 9.30-37

A person’s actions reveal their psychology, above all their fears. St. James teaches in the second reading today that wars and conflicts between people come from the conflict within each person. If we hate someone else, it is because we hate something inside ourself. Otherwise, we might pity them or teach them, but we would not hate them. If we are rivals with someone else, it is because we are unsure of ourself. Otherwise, we would just be glad to see someone succeed even more than we do.

Today the twelve Apostles were arguing about who was the greatest. In their culture, it was important to know the rankings of any group. The Twelve had been chosen from all Jesus’ disciples and had been elevated to a higher place. Clearly, Simon, who was renamed Peter, had the highest place within the Twelve. James and John were next, and they were brothers so they come as sort of a pair, but they wanted to replace Peter at the top, or at least their mother wanted them to. The other nine had to just fall in were they could. Perhaps Judas was fourth, since he carried the money bag. Maybe Andrew, since he was the brother of Simon Peter. This kind of ranking was important to them. That is why they were arguing along the way.

What were the Apostles afraid of? Perhaps they were afraid that they would have to serve instead of being served. Jesus reverses this by teaching them that the highest is the one who has to serve. “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” This is most clearly stated after Jesus washes their feet at the Last Supper. To be first in the Kingdom of God is to be the one with the most responsibility to care for others.

Why would the Apostles be afraid to serve? Perhaps they think that the one who serves is unappreciated, unloved. They want to be the person whom Jesus gladly embraces as a friend, not the person who looks on at such a friendship while serving. John the Baptist knew that he was not worthy to loosen the strap on Jesus’ sandals, but the Apostles are acting like young girls who argue over who is whose best friend. No one wants to be a third wheel, part of the supporting cast.

This is a basic human fear, being left out. We hate or love inside jokes based on whether we are inside. We all want someone to appreciate us and someone to love us unconditionally. When Eve ate that fruit because she thought that it would make her like God, she was afraid that she would miss out on something if she did not. When Adam ate the fruit because he did not want to lose Eve, he was afraid of being alone again. When Cain killed Abel, he was afraid of not being with God the way Abel was. All sin can be traced to pride, and all pride is a reaction to this fear of being insignificant and unwanted.

Aristotle talked about six categories of people according to how moral they were. There is the beastly person who acts like an animal or even worse. There is the vicious person who does bad things and is not trying to be good. There is the incontinent person who is sort of trying to be good but is usually bad. There is the continent person who is trying harder to be good and generally succeeding. Then there is the virtuous person who is naturally good; they are good without really trying. These first five categories are useful distinctions, but it is the sixth category that we Christians are interested in: the divine human who acts like a god among human beings.

Of course, the only really divine human ever was Jesus Christ; he actually was God among humans, but the Saints are for us examples of what Aristotle meant. To meet a living Saint is to have an entirely new experience of humanity. We believe that, because of the Holy Spirit, it is possible for every Christian to become a Saint, a person who seems completely different. Such a person is a witness to the truth of the Gospel. Christianity without witnesses is only an interesting idea. A Saint is living proof that there is something to it.

So what makes a Saint different from the rest? What separates the divine human from the other five types? They have resolved their fear of being left out. Not by becoming anti-social or becoming their own best friend or anything like that. They have discovered Someone who loves them and who will never stop loving them no matter what. Someone who appreciates them the way an artist appreciates their own masterpiece. Someone who can never be hurt or destroyed or taken away. With a love like that, what is there to be afraid of?

Such a person will have finally gotten inside the innermost circle. How will people react to that? Everyone else can only consider themselves left out. They will react as in the first reading today. “Let us beset the just one for he is obnoxious to us.” Such a person will be martyred. Temptations will come from every side trying to prove that the Saint is not really different from the rest of us. Then cruelty will come, hoping to make the Saint lash out or break. “With reviling and torture, let us put him to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness.” Finally they will kill the Saint to be rid of him. “Let us condemn him to a shameful death.” So they treated Jesus; so they have treated innumerable Christians throughout history.

When we see a Saint we must either be filled with jealousy or envy. If it is envy, we will hate them. If it is jealousy, we will want to be like them. Jesus’ message was that it is possible to be like him. He spoke of his Father in heaven with whom he has an unimaginably close relationship, but he taught us to call him “Our Father in Heaven”. What more could God do to assure us that he loves us? Rather than protecting his favored position, Jesus is inviting us into the innermost circle. If only we could see that God loves us and that this love will never go away no matter what, we would want nothing else. We would have no fears or worries. We would become like gods walking among human beings. We would serve everyone and love everyone and build everyone up because we would have no reason to fear our loss at their gain. We would be Saints. We can be Saints.