Twenty-fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B)
1st Reading: Wisdom 2 v 12 & 17-20
2nd Reading: James 3 v 16 – 4 v 3
Gospel: Mark 9 v 30-37
Our first reading was an excerpt from the book of Wisdom. The author (and we don’t know exactly who that was) explains how godless people have a completely false outlook on life which they hold as only having to do with this world and therefore they have no concept of being held accountable for how they conduct their lives or how they treat (or, more often, mistreat) other people.
And so the author says: “The godless say to themselves ‘Let us lie in wait for the virtuous man, since he annoys us and opposes our way of life, reproaches us for our breaches of God’s law. So let us test him with cruelty and thus explore this gentleness of his and put his endurance to the proof.”
When in our own day and age we experience the behaviour of what we would describe as godless people, it can be not only very discouraging, but also a temptation for us to give up on trying to live as God asks us to when we see bad people apparently living well, indeed thriving, despite their godlessness.
In the Book of Psalms (in psalm 72) the writer makes exactly that same point. He says: “My feet came close to stumbling, my steps had almost slipped for I was filled with envy when I saw how the wicked prosper. For them there are no pains; they have no share in men’s sorrows; they are not stricken like others. So they wear their pride like a necklace, they clothe themselves with violence. Their hearts overflow with malice, their minds seethe with plots. So the people turn to follow them and drink in all their words.”
And that can be the same problem for us. It’s almost the old saying If you can’t beat them, join them. But then the writer of the psalm says that just in time God helped him to understand what becomes of the wicked – because, of course, one day they will be subject to God’s judgment and then they will be held accountable for how they have lived their lives, how they have treated other people, and how they have disregarded God’s law. So all may seem well with them here and now, but that day of judgment is yet to come.
With that in mind, and the fact that we need to be more concerned with the quality of our own lives, we return to our second reading today from St James. He says: “Wherever you find jealousy and ambition, you find disharmony and wicked things of every kind being done; whereas the wisdom that comes down from above is essentially something pure; it also makes for peace, and is kindly and considerate; it is full of compassion and shows itself by doing good. Peace-makers, when they work for peace, sow the seeds which will bear fruit in holiness.”
And perhaps, therefore, we can remind ourselves of what God says to his people (and therefore also to us) in the book of Deuteronomy: “See, today, I set before you life and prosperity, death and disaster. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I enjoin on you today, if you love the Lord your God and follow his ways, if you keep his commandments, his laws, his customs, you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you. But if your heart strays, if you refuse to listen, if you let yourself be drawn into worshipping other gods and serving them, I tell you today, you will most certainly perish. I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life then.”