25th Sunday: The Call to be Kind and Compassionate
Why are some people so mean? Why are some people so cruel? Sadly, these are questions that even our little children ask. In fact, one of the most difficult responsibilities of raising a child is helping the child cope with those in his or her class, among his or her teammates, who are mean and cruel. Some parents have to approach this topic as early as Early Childhood and Primary Grades. Certainly, the mean behavior of others is a reality in Middle School, High School and College as well as in the workplaces and neighborhoods of our lives. The basic plot of so many novels and movies revolves around people who are mean and cruel. And there is a sad realization of all our lives is that it doesn’t take much for us to join others in treating people poorly.
Today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom presents mean, cruel people. They plot against the just man. They want to destroy him. The reasons for their hatred are presented. They are jealous of his goodness. They find his standing for God obnoxious. Worst, he has earned the respect of others that they crave, even though they don’t deserve it. They will prove to the people that the just man is not special to God by destroying the man. As the second reading from the Letter of James says: “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exists there is disorder and every foul practice.”
The reading from Wisdom is so true to the worst aspects of human nature that it is actually prophetic. It presents the attitude of those people who would want Jesus dead. The Temple priests, the Sadducees and Pharisees would attack Jesus because He also questioned their arrogance, their malevolence. They hated it when Jesus told them that they were not true to the law. Instead of change, they decided: Jesus had to go. He had to die.
This terrible situation often exists in our families, in our nation or even in our Church. A member of the family who is intent on living the faith might be despised by someone else who secretly wishes that his or her faith was as strong. In the our nation, the media often mocks those who are seeking to live properly. It glories in magnifying the foibles of just people. Instead of joining them in virtue, it would rather tear them down and equate the lives of good people with those of immoral people. Sadly, the same thing happens in the Church. After all, the Church is made of human beings. There are people within parishes, including priests and religious, and even bishops, who are ready to attack those whose virtue is perceived by others as greater than theirs. Jealousy destroys community.
So does selfish ambition. It is important that we are determined to make the best of our lives as we can, but not out of selfishness. We should be the best people we can be so that the Kingdom of God can radiate through us and grow. Our ambition for our families should be that our families be true Catholic families, whose children are led to become Catholic leaders themselves. Yes we want our children to get the education they need to find their place in society and eventually support their own families. But the goal is so they in turn can strengthen the world with their reflection of Jesus Christ. The goal of the education of a Catholic cannot be money. It must be the Kingdom of God.
This is a difficult challenge in many of our schools and workplaces. So often these are battlegrounds where people look to advance themselves by tearing others down. We Christians are challenged to avoid self-promotion that so often is the reason for calling attention to the failings of others, real or contrived. We Catholics are challenged to avoid returning insult and pettiness when we have been hurt by others. We are challenge to avoid joining the rat race and avoid using others for our own selfish gain.
Jesus knew human foibles. He knew his disciples would be more concerned about advancing themselves instead of advancing the Kingdom of God. Today’s Gospel follows Jesus telling the disciples about His coming passion. They didn’t hear that lesson, or at least they didn’t want to hear it. Instead they were busy discussing their great positions in the Kingdom of God. Jesus nipped this one right in the bud. He called a child to them and told them that their position in the Church should be like that of a little child. He was knocking them down from what they perceived as the top rung to the very bottom of the ladder. In the ancient world a child had little significance. That culture did not revolve around children as our culture does. Jesus tells his disciples that their ambition should be to be as insignificant as a child of their day. And then He raises us the importance of children. He his disciples that one of the greatest things that they can do is to care for a child.
Think about this. If you are in school, or when you were in school you had wonderful plans for the future. Perhaps you wanted to be successful in business, law or medicine. Then you had a child, or children. And it became so clear to you that there is nothing that you could do which would be greater than being a Christian parent. There is nothing you can do that is greater than being a mother or father that allows a child to reflect the presence of the Lord that child was created to bring into the world.
I know many of you who spent long years studying to be engineers, and doctors and lawyers, etc, and who now use your education to change diapers, do fourth grade arithmetic, etc. You are doing something far greater than you can imagine. You are being a good parent and forming a child into a Christian. You have bumps in the road. You may have to use more psychology than a clinical psychologist to convince your teenage daughter that she is lovable. You may wonder the struggle is worth it. Today’s Gospel tells you that it is infinitely worth it. By caring for the presence of Christ in the child, you, we are caring for Christ.
Jealousy and selfish ambition are part of the human makeup that we continually fight so that we can be Christians. We have a guide to help us avoid these limitations. The guide is Jesus Christ. He was not jealous of John the Baptist whose living of the Word of God took an ascetic turn. Nor did Jesus wish to promote himself in the eyes of the world. He did not seek a throne, although one was continually offered to Him by the people, as well as by the devil. Jesus was not arrogant. He wanted nothing more than to care for the least of his Father’s people. He identified with the poor and the sick. And He identified with children.
We can be like Him. We can allow the goal of our lives to be the goal of His Life: doing the Will of the Father. We can live for others, especially those in our families. We can be determined Christians, fervent Catholics. Living the Life of the Lord requires that we be kind and compassionate instead mean and cruel. We can do this. We must do this. Jesus Christ is with us. He makes us better than our fondest dreams.