LITURGY AND LIFE
By Marie-Louise Ternier-Gommers
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 2:12, 17-20
Some years ago a school of theology in the U.S. was seeking a new president. More than 100 candidates applied for the position. After the search committee had narrowed the list to five eminently qualified people, someone came up with a brilliant idea: let’s send a person to the institutions where each of the five finalists is currently employed, and let’s interview the janitor at each place, asking what they think of the one seeking to be our president. Thus, the one whose janitor gave the most glowing appraisal became the school’s new president.
“The Son of Man,” Jesus explained, “is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” There it was. Jesus laid out the whole plan before them; the crucifixion and the resurrection. The disciples should have been curious and deeply concerned. They should have asked questions. They should have seen the significance. But the best they could muster up was a blank stare and silence, for they had been bickering over who would be the greatest. They didn’t get it because what Jesus just told them did not fit their definition of greatness.
How do we stop measuring people by earthly success, status and wealth, and instead regard them for their service, for the extent of their love and generosity, for their sacrifices? What is greatness in the kingdom of God? If God would test us in ways that the writer of today’s first reading from Wisdom suggests, would we pass the test?
Conflict and controversy abound in our church today. The battle lines are viciously drawn: liberal versus conservative, pro-life versus social justice, pre-Vatican II versus post, the law versus love and service. The most recent and public illustration is the virtual stand-off between the Vatican and the U.S. sisters. How would each of us stand up to the definition of greatness which Jesus exemplifies? How would it show that we have embraced God’s understanding of wisdom?
To answer that question, we turn to today’s excerpt from the letter of James: “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.” That is a very tall order, and I wonder if any of us are honest and open enough to let this divine wisdom rule our lives. As James points out, conflicts and disputes often arise from “the cravings at war” within us. If our craving is to be right, we will automatically consider wrong those who disagree with us. If our craving is power, we will automatically perceive as a threat those who question us. If our craving is status, we will automatically judge inferior those who dismiss.
As we ponder God’s message this Sunday, let us take to heart the lesson from a story taken from Elisabeth Elliot’s book These Strange Ashes, a lesson that fits well with today’s Gospel:
One day Jesus said to his disciples: “I’d like you to carry a stone for me.” He didn’t give any explanation. So the disciples looked around for a stone to carry, and Peter, being the practical sort, sought out the smallest stone he could possibly find. After all, Jesus didn’t give any regulation for weight and size! So he put it in his pocket. Jesus then said: “Follow me.” He led them on a journey. About noontime Jesus had everyone sit down. He waved his hands and all the stones turned to bread. He said, “Now it’s time for lunch.” Given the size of Peter’s stone, his lunch was over in a few seconds. After lunch Jesus told them to stand up. He said again, “I’d like you to carry a stone for me.” This time Peter said, “Aha! Now I get it!” So he looked around and saw a small boulder. He hoisted it on his back and began to walk. It was painful, it made him stagger. But he said, “I can’t wait for supper.” Jesus then said: “Follow me.” He led them on a journey, with Peter barely being able to keep up. Around supper time Jesus led them to the side of a river. He said, “Now everyone, throw your stones into the water.” They did. Then he said, “Follow me,” and began to walk. Peter and the others looked at him dumbfounded. Jesus sighed and said, “Don’t you remember what I asked you to do? Who were you carrying the stone for?”
Ternier-Gommers, married and mother of three adult children, is an award-winning author and retreat leader. She is active with an ecumenical network of women in ministry, works in pastoral ministry at St. Augustine Parish in Humboldt, and is a freelance writer.