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Sunday Scripture: A suffering servant Messiah

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

By Sister Betty J. Lillie, S.C.

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Wisdom 2:12, 17-20; Psalm 54:3-8; James 3:16-4:3; Mark 9:30-37

As Jesus walked and talked with His disciples, there were some points of instruction they needed to understand very clearly. One of them was about His true identity. We heard about that last week. In this Gospel passage Jesus is working on the transition they needed to make in their concept of the kind of Messiah He is. He is a suffering servant Messiah. They wondered what that could mean.

The popular assumption was that the Messiah would come in wealth and splendor and use His power to bring about peace and abundance for God’s chosen people. In contrast, the description Jesus was giving of His mission was one of suffering and death, even though followed by His rising from the dead. His disciples did not understand all of that, and the conversation they subsequently had among themselves makes that clear.

When they arrived in the house in Capernaum Jesus asked them about their conversation. They had been discussing among themselves who would be the greatest in Jesus’ kingdom. If we take a moment to think ahead, we will remember that James and John asked Jesus to give them the highest positions when He would take over the kingdom (Mark 10:35-45). The other 10 were indignant at them.

Jesus spelled out for them what would be involved in following Him and what their behavior needed to be like. The conversation focused on a child who would be received/welcomed in Jesus’ name with reverence for who Jesus is. In Aramaic a play on the word talya is used here. The word can be interpreted as servant or child. If one wished to be first, he would need to be servant of all, and thus the last of all.

That turned the disciples’ thinking upside down. And then they heard Jesus say that whoever receives Him receives the one who sent Him! It wasn’t until after the resurrection that their heads got turned right side up on those issues.

Our first and second readings for this week play into the Gospel message.  The first one is from the Book of Wisdom, and it presents a characteristic diatribe of the wicked against the just. “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions” (Wisdom 2:12). It is a commentary on the trials that good people suffer from the twisted reasoning of the wicked, but the writer’s view of immortality sees a reward for the good after death.

The Letter of James works out of a wisdom theme also when it says, “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom….But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity” (Wisdom 3:13, 17). James also argues for the virtues of a good life.

These are some of the aspects of the kingdom Jesus brought to the world. In some cases the world still calls for a transition to a new way of thinking and acting in human community. For all of this we can pray with the psalmist, “Behold God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life” (Psalm 54).

Sister Betty Jane is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.

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