Twenty-fifth Sunday of the Year
23 September 2012
My dear friends,
Few of the Scripture writers are as forceful or as forthright as the Apostle James. He starts this evening’s passage firmly stating that wherever we find jealousy and ambition, we find disharmony and wicked things of every kind being done – certainly not an advertisement for jealousy and ambition!
There once were two men John and James, both seriously ill, in the same small room in the hospital. The room was in fact so cramped that there was only one small window in it looking out onto the world. One of the men, John, had some level of movement and was allowed once a day to sit up in his bed next to the window. He could look out on those occasions; that was why his bed was next to the window. But the other man, James, had to spend practically all of his time flat on his back. This was why his bed was not near the window.
Every afternoon, when John was propped up for his hour of treatment, he would pass the time describing to his roommate what he could see outside. From the picture he painted, the window overlooked a park where there was a lake. There were ducks and swans in the lake, and children came to throw them bread and to sail model boats. Young men and women walked hand in hand beneath the trees; there were stretches of grass and flowers and games of softball. At the back, behind the ring of trees, was a fine view of the city skyline.
John patiently described all this to his roommate James, to lift his spirits. He told him how a child nearly fell into the lake, and how the children were involved in all kinds of adventuresome tricks to celebrate the sunny weather. James could feel he was in the park, and part of the lively scene. Then one afternoon, a dark thought came over him. Why should John have all the privilege and pleasure of seeing what was going on? Why shouldn’t he have his turn at the window? It was anything but fair. He tried to stifle these thoughts but they kept getting stronger and gradually soured and poisoned his spirit. He could barely conceal his anger at this stage. Something had to give.
One night, as James lay with his thoughts, staring at the ceiling and getting angrier by the minute, John suddenly woke with a start. He coughed and choked and groped for the button that would bring the nurse running. Watching all this intently, James moved the button until it was out of John’s reach. The choking subsided eventually but when the nurse checked the room an hour later she shrieked, pressed the button frantically and thumped John’s back until others arrived and John was taken away to intensive care, still spluttering as the nurse held an oxygen mask to his face.
Next day, as soon as it could be thought decent, James asked the nurse if his bed could be moved near the window. So they moved him, tucked him in, and made him comfortable. As soon as he could no longer hear the scratch of their white shoes on the linoleum James laboriously propped himself up on one elbow and looked out the window. It faced a blank wall!
In the latter part of the passage James asks, “Where do these wars and battles between yourselves first start? Isn’t it precisely in the desires fighting inside your own selves? You want something and you haven’t got it; so you are prepared to kill. You have an ambition that you cannot satisfy; so you fight to get your way by force.” Jesus himself had taught this lesson to the disciples in different ways. He had explained to them that it was not the food a man took in that made him unclean but what came out of him. The wall was blank. It was what had grown in his heart and mind that poisoned Jame’s spirit and caused the destruction that ensued. In a way, it was an example of the gentleness and virtue of the good man, as described in the first reading from the Book of Wisdom, aggravating the godless who often respond with cruelty and torture. James says that the real antidote to this type of poison is the wisdom which comes down from above, which is full of compassion and brings peace.
It all fits in with the efforts of Jesus to bring his disciples to a proper understanding of the Messiah whom the Jews were awaiting. Here they are, the Gospel reading tells us, discussing among themselves which of them was the greatest. They thought Jesus would yet be a strong temporal leader with the power to hand out positions of prestige and influence. They had not yet grasped that the real mark of a disciple of Jesus was to follow his way of humble service. Those who want to be first must be servants of all.
Once again Jesus places a child in front of his followers. Instead of the inflated ego, pride, ambition or jealousy they should seek humility, openness and trust. Instead of
political power and influence, opt for humble service of the weak and the poor. Build up a Church which, inspired by the example of its founder, is approachable instead of aloof, humble rather then arrogant and childlike without being childish. “Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me.”
+Liam S. MacDaid