17 Pentecost, Year B: Heaven and Earth

SUNDAY’S READINGS | September 19, 2021

Prov. 31:10-31 or Wis. 1:16-2:1, 12-22 or Jer. 11:18-20
Ps. 1 or Ps. 54
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly. Help us, O God, to set our mind on things that are above, above space and time, above all need, above the cycle of life and death. Take us to that place of eternal peace where joy and gladness reign and where the happiness of one is the shared happiness of all. Help us to contemplate the highest things. And yet, O Lord my God, you have sent your Son into the world; and you have sent us into the world in the power of his spirit.

We lift up our hearts, and we put our hands to the plow. We have heaven to hope for and the earth to walk upon in good works and righteousness. In union with Christ, we sit close to the Father, and we endure on earth. Our contemplation, though always directed to God, moves in two directions, above and below. “May your thought be with the Almighty, and may your prayer be directed to Christ without intermission,” says Thomas à Kempis. And because we cannot always consider the highest things, he recommends, “rest in the passion of Christ; willingly dwell in his sacred wounds. Endure with Christ and for Christ, if you want to rule with Christ” (Imitatio Christi, Lib. 2, 1, 1-16).

“[Jesus] was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will again.’ But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him” (Mark 9:30-32). In a sense, no less than the first disciples, we fall silent before the mystery of the cross. We are rightly stunned and shocked by the wickedness of “human hands.” We are startled even more by the forgiveness of Christ. What is happening?

Jesus Christ is the righteous one. He is light shining in the darkness. The world, so exposed, reacts with a vengeance. The Book of Wisdom describes how the ungodly react to the righteous. “The ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death; considering him a friend, they pined away and made a covenant with him, because they are fit to belong to his company” (Wis. 1:16). “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training” (Wis. 2:12).

We think of Jesus’ teaching, his healing, his love. We are perhaps afraid to consider Jesus in another way, as the one who exposes human evil. And so, as the author of Wisdom writes, “the very sight of him is a burden to us” (Wis. 2:15). The prophet Jeremiah, speaking of plots against himself, speaks as well of the passion of Christ. “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living so that his name will no longer be remembered” (Jer. 11:19).

The world wanted a dead and forgotten Jesus.

In the death of Jesus, the evils of this world were fully exposed, spent, and forgiven. Jesus rose from the dead not to destroy his tormentors but to show the victory of life itself. As the sons and daughters of God, we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and yet death has been served notice by the victory of Christ over death. Christ has conquered death, setting in its place a new and deathless humanity.

Look It Up: James 3:17

Think About It: Pure, peaceful, gentle, yielding, merciful, good fruit, no partiality or hypocrisy. In other words, the new being.


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