Homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time by Fr. James DiLuzio CSP

Readings: Wisdom 2:12, 17-20, Ps 54:3-4, 5, 6 and 8, James 3:16—4:3 and The Gospel of Mark 9:30-37

Everyone wants to be the best he or she can be. Everyone likes to come out on top, beat the competition, wind the medal. It’s so human! Yet Jesus chastises his disciples who want to be “the greatest.” He does so because so often “Be our best” degenerates into “Be THE best,” and with that comes a loss of our common humanity.  Jesus offers a solution to such bravado asking us to return to our childhood innocence.  

We may think only contemporary culture is excessively competitive, filled with rancor. Not so!  Were not Jesus’ disciples arguing for First Place–discontent to be one among many, to share and share alike? In every generation, people desire to be the best they can be, the greatest among top competitors. We want respect. We fantasize fame.  Christians are no exception. 

Admirable as these goals may be, Jesus knew that within those perfectly human goals of popularity and renown, there lurks in the shadows of our psyches, a penchant to take offense at another’s accomplishments, to allow our insecurities to feed resentment. We may even desire another’s downfall or find our imagination wickedly planning their demise.

The words from the Book of Wisdom must give us pause:  12Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us. 13He professes to have knowledge of God and styles himself a child of the Lord. 14 To us he is the censure of our thoughts;
merely to see him is a hardship for us,”

 “Child of the Lord,” is the biblical phrase of one who accepts God’s sovereignty, confident in who he or she is, one so rooted in God’s love, grateful for what she has. A child of the Lord does not brood over what he is not.  People long for that kind of peace and often resent those who have it. No surprise that resentment is often the source of conflict within and among families, colleagues, neighbors, parishioners – everyone.

From Cain’s murder of his brother Abel to the Crucifixion of Jesus, the sin of envy, resentment in another’s accomplishment and wellbeing is in rampant evidence in human history, literature and even in our everyday experiences.

Jesus says, “STOP!” Be as you were an innocent child!  Recapture the times in your youth when you were eager for everyone to succeed, everyone to get a prize, a gift, a hug, approval!  (Everyone must have felt that at some point, even if all we remember are our sibling rivalries. Who, after all, wasn’t in some way or other in competition for our parent’s admiration?) We all need acceptance. Acceptance. We may not feel we achieved that, but faith assures us GOD ACCEPTS US even with ours sins and failings.  Unconditional surrender to God brings experiences of God’s unconditional love. It is that simple!  Want to be seeped in serenity, more confident, with a stronger ability forbear life’s difficulties? Surrender to God. That’s the foundation of the kingdom.

Look to Jesus.  Jesus experienced that kind of heaven on earth. He was rooted in an unbreakable, fully sustainable, intimacy with God the Father. It gave him astounding inner peace.  We must remind ourselves the earthly Jesus had qualities every Christian strives for: fortitude, skill in debate, honesty in every endeavor, compassion, strength to challenge the commonplace, a healthy abhorrence of passivity in the face of injustice in Church and State.  We should all know by now that what often sounds like judgment and condemnation from Jesus, was, in fact, an open invitation to move beyond human shadow and come into the Kingdom’s light. This is who Jesus was and is, and his invitation still stands.

Today, and every day, Jesus invites us to ask, “Who is the true source of my confidence, my strengths, my ability to love and be loved? Will I allow the Christ to keep me in a child-like eagerness to be good, to share, to compete with my gifts in ways that do not devalue others or crush their spirits?  How may my honesty allow me to be vulnerable and sensitive to another’s frailties because of my faith in Jesus–the source of all that is good in me and everyone else?” Remember, all good things are contagious.  As we allow ourselves to be more honest, vulnerable, and sensitive with others, they are more likely to open up to us in the same way.   That is living in the Kingdom, where everyone has something to gain, and nothing to lose.  Gracious winners and Gracious losers – it doesn’t matter which, for it’s the loving of the life, celebrating God’s love.

We might enjoy lots of drama in our books and entertainment, in sports and in the news. Indeed, there is a little bit of Cain in everyone; a bit of the crowd yelling, “Crucify him,” in every faithful Catholic. Yet, deep within, is a more authentic desire for peace; hope that resentments will fade away, and we find ourselves laughing at our own frailties, inviting others to do the same. May our communion with Jesus be enough for us today and every day to be Christ to one another. 

Homily: Jesus cleanses the temple area circa 27AD.

Anger. S0 many things make us angry. Anger is a very natural human emotion.  Anger is not a sin.  What we do with our anger–how we express it– brings us into the realm of morality and sin. Still, far too often people justify temper tantrums and inappropriate expressions of anger citing Jesus’ banishing merchants and moneylenders from the temple.

But what Jesus exemplifies here is different from what happens when we get angry.  We must distinguish Jesus’ righteous anger from what we demonstrate due to wounded pride, selfishness, jealousies, or when we desire to intimidate, manipulate, or seek revenge. A careful study of the Scripture shows what appears as anger on Jesus’ part, is His ZEAL FOR GOD. That is why the disciples recall the passage of Psalm 69 and that is the difference.  This Gospel shows Jesus acting as God’s abiding Spirit insisting people internalize the outward sign of the temple to make their very lives temples of continual worship to God.    By the way, the reference here to “the JEWS” here, is not about an entire ethnic group. The ONLY way to interpret the phrase today is to apply it to anyone and everyone not concerned with deepening their relationship with God and others. It is a scandal that the Church did not emphasize this formally until Vatican Council of 1965.  But thankfully, we know this now, and we are obligated to assure that others know this, too. Now: back to Jesus’ Zeal for God and a properly God-oriented humanity.

Zeal for God is intimately aligned with the TEN COMMANDMENTS – the heart of restoring humanity to right relationship with God and others.  That is why we included a Reading of the Ten Commandments today. To become superficial with prayer, rites and rituals deprives us of the foundation of our true dignity –that everyone, all Creation belong to God.  Thus, business of temple sacrifices in 27 AD mirrors the business and activity in our 2021 lives, highlighting the sad truth that we often ignore our relationship with God.  The result:  superficial, hypocritical religion. Today’s Gospel insists we take note of “ROTE” and make a change!   

It is not that the money changers and animal merchants were so awful. Money exchange from Greek and Roman coins to Temple coins devoid of objectionable images was reasonable.  In fact, Jesus would have approved of not having coins with images that tempted people to make gods and goddesses of emperors, public officials, and civic leaders. We remain tempted to make gods and goddesses of many public figures today in all realms of government, sports, and the arts. We, too, must be on our guard!

And, as for the animal sacrifices, everything has its proper time. It was clear to Jesus that the time for animal sacrifices had come to an end.  The people had stayed too long in an early stage of their faith—substituting animal sacrifices in place of cultivating contrite hearts, repentant, humble ways of living. How often did the prophets of old proclaim that!  Jesus declared time to advance to a deeper, more intimate relationship with God and others had arrived because, the Christ was in their midst. 

When God is not the foundation of life, when we do not daily cultivate humility, thanksgiving, spiritual growth, repentance, and reconciliation, we must pray for ZEAL: the righteous anger of Jesus to be incarnated in ourselves.  Jesus’ ZEAL reflects an anger without judgement, an anger without hate, anger without condemnation—all the inappropriate ways to which we are so prone.  Although our angers often do not, Jesus’ Zeal always invites transformation, and spiritual renewal for everyone.  The ZEAL of Jesus is anger built on compassion—to orient people back to God and our genuine human dignity.

Today, therefore, this Gospel invites us to participate in the very justified movements such as Black Lives Matter; the LGBQT movement, ME TOO, Equal Rights, Equal Pay for Equal Work, and other important, transformative endeavors.  Not to have zeal for other’s rights is to devalue our won rights and dignity. Not to want to perpetuate the Kingdom of God for all, to cultivate Right Religion (freeing our faith from hypocrisy, superstition—and modeling ways for others to do the same), Right Government (freed from lies, illusions, arrogance, partisanship, and greed) makes prayer and religious observances superficial.  Rote religion deprives us of receptivity to the Grace Jesus offers freely, for GRACE and gratitude for grace are the true source of our human dignity.  

In these times of turmoil, as we strive to return to our true dignity, we must remember, too, that transformation may evoke violence in others because society is so threatened by transformative change. As it was in Jesus’ time, so it continues until now. In joining any just cause, we must first evaluate our personal angers in relation to Jesus’ ZEAL and, ultimately, patiently invite others to evaluate their angers and frustrations so that together we may explore healthy ways of converting our anger to cooperation for positive change. Still, confronting wrongdoing may require cracking a whip across a pillar –never upon human flesh and bone—because people must be called to attend to righteousness.  Otherwise, we all just go about our busy lives.  

What we know about Jesus throughout the Gospels and in centuries of faith development is that he while He used the whip to sound an alarm, he did not, could not inflict on others what was-and would-be inflicted upon him.  Note, John’s Gospel places Jesus’ Zeal at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  Once he exposed hypocrisy of superficial religion, he left the temple to heal, perform miracles, to preach with the blessed assurance, that everyone can belong, everyone can be mutually cared for. Indeed, spiritual ZEAL comprises patient endurance and compassion, saying to the corrupt, the defensive, the selfish, those who live in fear: “We know you were brought up this way!  We know fear and anger is evidenced on all sides.  Still, we know what is right, and what our God-given rights are. In our hearts, we think you know that, too.  Take responsibility for your past, join in a coalition for lives of faith, hope and love.” Things do not have to stay the way they are. Our past does not have to dictate our present or our future.  Today’s Eucharist offers Grace to you and me to restore us to the ZEAL that is Jesus’ mission.  Take and Eat. Go and do likewise.