According to current calculations, there are fewer than one hundred shopping days left before Christmas – panic time! Acres of neon-bright decorations have filled the aisles and shelves at Costco and other big box stores for weeks. The message blares from all commercial channels: buy stuff before it’s too late! (Friendly advice: don’t buy anything made of plastic or microfibers — the planet is suffocating in that stuff. If something isn’t biodegradable or recyclable, don’t fall for it. Before it really is too late…)
In the meantime, summer is about to end and with the coming of autumn, the readings of the season begin to look toward finalities. It’s harvest time. Todays’
reading from the Letter of James provides one of the most memorable passages in that regard and sets the tone for much of what will be our food for reflection and action over the next two months:
“where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.
And a harvest of justice is sown in peace for those who make peace” [James 3:16-18].
It’s opportune. The past week has been filled (again) with reports of violence, “tragic mistakes,” desperate refugees flocking to our borders, and shootings on our streets and in our homes. The pandemic continues to kill people by the thousands. Hurricanes and wildfires still ravage the earth around the world. Sectarian violence, oppression, and unequal justice still befall the defenseless. When, you wonder, will it all end?
I’m reminded of an old cartoon that portrayed a couple of space aliens looking down from their flying saucer on an Earth burning and covered with explosions. One says to the other, “They’re fighting over which religion is more peaceable.”
The readings from Mark’s gospel for the last couple of Sundays have focused on the Cross, and so does today’s. Passing over his account of the Transfiguration
and an exorcism, the reading takes up another prediction by Jesus of his coming passion and death, followed by the promise of his resurrection. But then Jesus chides the disciples for worrying about rank and precedence when they should be thinking about service. There’s a connection here.
Today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom, written a century before Jesus’ time, sets the stage for his dire prediction, reminding us that the just will be persecuted and hounded if for no other reason than people are so often suspicious, cynical, and resentful. Anyone or anything that seems too good to be true must be false. It’s all fake news…
In his letter, James, who would shortly be put to death to satisfy the mob, similarly argues that envy and discord arise out of an unhappy heart. We are dissatisfied with what we have and look on others with distrust and suspicion. Like the disciples vying over position, even religious leaders appeal at times to selfishness and greed, promising and pursuing success, wealth, and power as a reward not for faith and prayer, but for obliging membership in the acceptable sect. And if we fail to get what we want, we tend to become bitter toward those who do, or those who refuse to play that game. If nothing else, we can make life as miserable for them as we are able – even to the point of murder.
But innocence, James says, is the fruit of wisdom, along with peacefulness, docility, and kindness. Here too, Jesus warns us against ambition, greed, and the lure of power. He places a guileless child before us and tells us that in welcoming someone without status, without money, without powerful contacts in Washington, London, or Rome, we welcome the one who was rejected by the leaders of the people and the state, who was tortured and killed for no other reason than he spoke the truth and showed us the way to live.
Somber but hope-filled words as the year moves painfully ahead. Words to take to heart.