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Friday, 18 September 2015

Homily for 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B - By Fr. Munachi E. Ezeogu, CSSp



Homily for 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B - By Fr. Munachi E. Ezeogu, CSSp
Wisdom 2:12,17-20, James 3:16-4:3, Mark 9:30-37
- on the Gospel

Biblical scholars have discovered in Bible stories a pattern which they call “the younger child motif.” They found that in stories that have to do with two brothers or two sisters, it is almost invariably the younger one who emerges as the hero, the good guy, the one who laughs last. Starting from the story of Cain and Abel, through those of Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers, David and his brothers, Adonijah and Solomon, Leah and Rachel, the prodigal son and his elder brother, to that of Mary and Martha, we find it is usually the younger sibling who ends up more at peace with God and people. It is hard to make sense of this biblical pattern, but a theory put forward by Carl Jung seems to help.


According to Carl Jung, the human personality is driven by two energies, which he calls by the Latin words of senex, meaning old man or senior, and puer eternis, the eternal boy or child. The senior is more wise, prudent and calculating, always looking before leaping and so ends up often not leaping at all. The child energy, on the other hand, is more venturesome, more prone to making mistakes, and takes more chances. The senior is more preserving and security conscious, the child is more like easy-come-easy-go, more prepared to change and to let go. The senior is more geared towards competition, power and success, the child energy is more attuned to cooperation and celebration. The senior is more responsible while the child is more lighthearted. In large families, it often happens that the parents transfer their senior energies to their first children and the latter children end up conserving more of their child energies. Jung goes on to say that when one of these two energies takes over the personality entirely, the result is personality death. To be fully human, fully alive, these two energies must find a balance, a harmony in the personality.

When we look at the actions of the disciples in today’s gospel, we find that they are acting from a senior energy overdrive. First, we find that, for the second time, Jesus tries to tell them in plain language of the suffering, death and resurrection that awaits him in Jerusalem. They do not understand, yet they do not ask. Isn’t that typical of senior men? They say one reason why God created Eve was because God was afraid that Adam would always be lost in the garden because men hate to ask for directions. That is the senior energy expressing itself. Another expression of the senior energy in the disciples is their argument on the way about which of them was the greatest. This shows that they are relating to one another and working with one another on the basis of competition rather than cooperation. Now you begin to understand where the little child comes in.

Then Jesus took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me’” (Mark 9:36-37).

The critical importance of this declaration lies in this: that unless we welcome the child, all our efforts to accept the Lord Jesus as our personal Lord and saviour may be as unproductive as the efforts of the disciples to follow Jesus. To accept the child can mean more than one thing, but one thing it must include, according to Jung’s analysis, is to accept the child part of our personality. With this we become less calculating, less concerned about our personal dignity or shame, less afraid of failure and death, and less grabbing for power and success. With more of the child energy, we shall be more disposed to take a leap in the dark, to let go. Then, only, does believing and following Jesus become possible.

Our culture today, even more than the Hebrew culture of the disciples, is heavily biassed in favour of the senior energy. Like the disciples we are very success oriented, and we measure success in terms of comparing ourselves with others. Jesus challenges us today to make room for the childlike energy of trust, of laughter, of cooperation with one another. Whether we are nine years old or ninety-nine, and whether we are the firstborn, the last-born, or the only child of the family, the message of Jesus challenges us all to become young at heart. This is the only way to join the company of the younger sons and daughters of the Bible to whom the kingdom of God belongs.

- on the Epistle

Wisdom is a central theme in the letter of James. The very first injunction in the opening section of the book is an advice on how to obtain wisdom (James 1:5). In today’s second reading, James tells us that there are two kinds of wisdom, worldly and godly wisdom. He further explains why many Christians seem to be caught in the web of worldly wisdom and never grow up to attain godly wisdom.

Today’s passage is part of a general message which James gives in 3:15, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.” James maintains that there is a wisdom that is not true wisdom. “Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish” (James 3:15). Earthly wisdom is driven by “envy and selfish ambition.” Its effect on the community is “disorder and wickedness of every kind” (verse 16). He contrasts this with the godly wisdom.

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. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace (James 3:17-18).

Divine wisdom is perfect wisdom. It has these seven characteristics:
(i)        It is pure. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). The truly wise are single-minded in their service of God, free from all ulterior motives and of self-seeking.
(ii)       It is peaceable. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Arrogant worldly wisdom often breeds dissension and division, but godly wisdom always produces harmony and right relationships among people.
(iii)      It is gentle. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). The Apostle Paul declares that “we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7). The truly wise are very considerate, knowing when to temper justice with mercy.
(iv)      It is forbearing (i.e., willing to yield). Jesus was known for his “gentleness and forbearance” (2 Corinthians 10:1). Similarly, Christians are to be known for their forbearance (Philippians 4:5). Truly wise people are not stubborn or unwilling to listen to reason. On the contrary, they know when to accommodate other people’s points of view and yield to them.
(v)       It is full of mercy and good fruits. Christian mercy distinguishes itself from natural pity in two ways. Firstly, whereas we natural feel pity for one who is suffering unjustly, Christian mercy extends to all who suffer, even if they have brought the suffering on themselves. Secondly, natural pity is an emotion that one feels, whereas Christian mercy is an action that one takes. It must issue in good fruits, that is, in a good deed. Truly wise people feel pity for all who suffer and go on to do something concrete to help.
(vi)      It does not vacillate or hesitate. Although Christian wisdom is open to other people’s ideas, it does not doubt its own basic convictions. “For the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:7).
(vii)     It is without a trace of hypocrisy. Paul advises us to “Let love be sincere” (Romans 12:9). True wisdom is not a pretence or a make-believe but a genuine expression of faith.

After this extensive description of godly wisdom, James asks a very pertinent question: “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from?” (James 4:1). We live in a world ridden with conflicts and disputes. So this is a very important question. James answers that they arise from the inordinate cravings that are at war within us. He explains: “You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts” (verse 2). We have a tendency to blame others and hold them responsible for the conflicts and disputes in our lives. But James asks us to look in the mirror to discover who is ultimately responsible for our acts of violence. His analysis holds true for us both as individuals and as a society.

James does not blame us for wanting a better life. He blames us for seeking a better life on our own terms, in order to satisfy our selfish desires. “You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:2-3). In other words, our hope for a better life will be realised if we recognise that everything good and perfect comes as a gift from God, and that these gifts are given to us in trust to spend in the service and glory of God and not on our selfish pleasures.

The problem with our world today is that godly wisdom is in short supply. Let us today resolve to stand up and be counted with the few children of God who have and live and move in the wisdom from above. And this is how: “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you” (James 1:5).

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