20th Sep, 2009

The Fifteenth Sunday After Trinity

by Fr. Mark D. Stuart

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

What is the point of pursuing wisdom? Well, to become wise. That is, wisdom is its own end, or its own reward. This is sort of answer may suffice for philosophers (those who are “lovers of wisdom”), but St. James has other ideas.

The wise person does not demonstrate wisdom primarily by thinking wise thoughts or uttering wise sayings. Rather, he or she lives a life punctuated by “deeds of gentleness born of wisdom.” St. James elaborates on this by noting that the wisdom from above is “pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits.” Wisdom is not just a contemplative attainment, but must manifest itself in particular actions.

In our Gospel lesson today from St. Mark, Jesus introduces the issue that is the lynchpin of all Christian wisdom: the Cross. The Cross is the central moment at which the wisdom of God is displayed against the wisdom of the world. Christ’s true wisdom is self-giving, self-offering obedience to God for the benefit of others. Sadly, the disciples seem unable to grasp this as anything like wisdom.

This becomes even more obvious in the second part of our reading from St. Mark. As they walk along, the disciples argue and discuss which one of them is the greatest. Who is Jesus’ star pupil? But interestingly Jesus does not rebuke and reprimand them for aspiring to greatness. This, for Jesus, becomes a “teachable moment.” It seems the problem is that apart from understanding the Cross, it is impossible to understand how becoming the last of all and servant of all constitutes greatness.

The way of the Cross is no less confounding today. Because of this many speak of Christianity as a set of skills that one learns to practice, the way one learns the skills necessary to be a woodworker or a research chemist. But the practice of our faith is not as simple and tidy as learning a set of skills in order to become an expert.

Which brings us back to the disciples on the road. Not surprisingly, once inside the house in Capernum Jesus is unimpressed by the disciples’ little argument about who is the greatest. It was Will Rogers who once commented that, “It is more important to be human than it is to be important.”

Looking around for help to make his point, Jesus sits down, calls his disciples to gather round, and brings a young child into the group. Now to most adults of the time and certainly to adult male disciples focused on their alpha male teacher, children were of no consequence. Think about that in our own day, as well. Children are the most vulnerable, least empowered persons in all societies. They cannot take care of themselves by earning a living and buying the necessities of food, clothing, and shelter. They cannot vote and do not pay taxes. Children are totally dependent and at the mercy of adults. They represent the most weak and defenseless qualities of humanity, although they frequently are precocious and have definite opinions.

Take for instance the Sunday School class of fourth-graders who were quizzed by their teacher one day. “Does anyone know what today is?” the teacher asked. Immediately a hand flew up from the back of the class and the little girl blurted out, “Today is Palm Sunday.” “Why, yes, you’re right,” the teacher proudly responded. “And does anyone know what next Sunday is?” Again the same little hand shot up, “Yes, I know – it’s Easter Day when Jesus rose from tomb!” And before the teacher could congratulate her, she continued, “But if he sees his shadow he has to go back in for another 6 weeks!”

Jesus sets just such a child on his lap in the midst of the disciples and tells them that they should treat her as they would treat him! The greatest, then is the one who is the least in the eyes of the world. The least in the eyes of the world is the one no one bothers to even see, the invisible one.

As with the child Jesus embraces as his stand-in, He is the invisible Lord, whose greatness comes from his identification with all those in his day, as well as ours, whom we do not see because they simply are not important enough: the day laborers outside the Home Depot; the man on disability who cannot afford food once he has to purchase his medications; the single mother who has to work two minimum wage jobs to barely get by providing for her children; the senior citizen alone in the world with all her friends and spouse gone; the list is endless – we see these people every day, but we don’t really see them, because they are the invisible ones to us.

Maybe the true wisdom Jesus is trying to teach his disciples might be summed up by saying: “Start seeing the invisible.” Not because it is virtuous to do so, so that we congratulate ourselves on being the greatest at seeing.

The wisdom of the Cross is the same wisdom that is capable of welcoming a child or any other invisible person of no consequence to the world in Christ’s name. Too often Christians appear to view greatness just as everyone else does. Frequently, we rank parishes, clergy, or church members by the same standards of success the world does. Perhaps we should instead listen carefully to St. James’ list of attributes that constitute wisdom with his underscoring admonition: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”

Start seeing the invisible because to receive the invisible one is to receive Jesus and to receive Jesus is to receive God. “Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.”

Amen.

 

 


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