The Price of Status Quo

by Susanna Mak
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wisdom 2:12 , 17 - 20

James 3:16 - 4:3

Mark 9:30-37

Most of us strive to “do the right thing” where possible. On the one hand, our human nature, created in the image of God, lends us propensity to desire goodness, justice, and peace. On the other, humans also enjoy picking fights; challenging each other to assert one’s superiority. These “conflicts and disputes” among us, rooted in our egocentrism, juxtapose with our deeper desire for goodness, justice, and peace (Jm 4:1). Through this internal tension, we are able to better understand the mystery of God’s love and mercy.

This week’s readings offer some rather counterintuitive ideas regarding life. The highly dramatic voices of defiance portrayed in the Book of Wisdom shed light onto the darkest corner of the human heart. The “godless” people reject “the righteous one” because He “makes life inconvenient”, “opposes [their] actions”, and “reproaches [them] for sins against the law” (Wis 2:12). It is uncomfortable, to say the least, when others criticize our wrongs. Indeed, they put on a mask of defiance to hide their fear. Fear of what? Perhaps fear of the darkness hidden in the deepest recess of their heart? Such fear manifests itself in defiance, mockery, and even hatred: “Let us test him with insult and torture, so that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death” (Wis 2:19-20). They believe that by putting the other down, they may prove themselves superior and thus, have an excuse not to change their sinful ways. How often have we been filled with similar fear and defiance? We often reject “good” advice because deep down, we know that we must change but change comes with a hefty price. However, have we considered the cost of status quo?

Therefore, let us welcome this divine light that reveals the darkest recess of our heart. In the second reading, we learn that though making the right choices can be difficult at times, “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” (Jm 3:17). When we experience “cravings that are at war within” us, we need to accept that we can do and change nothing by our own strength for “the Lord is the upholder of [our] life” (Jm 4:1, Ps 54 :4). James counsels that, first, we must be honest with ourselves, “where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness” (Jm 3:16). Then, simply “ask” God for help. It is only through the lens of our constant struggles against ourselves that we may uncover what’s hidden and allow the one true light to dispel our darkness, revealing the path to goodness, justice, and peace.

Just as the Book of Wisdom prefaces, Jesus, “the righteous one”, accepts that He will be “betrayed” and killed. He also anticipates with full confidence in God’s divine plan that He “will rise again” in three days. From a pure human perspective, it is indeed hard to swallow Jesus’ apparent defeat. His disciples, and often us, fail to understand the paradox that weakness is strength. St. Paul confesses that “power is made perfect in weakness… Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2Cor 12:9-10). Indeed, by God’s power, Jesus leads with gentleness, humility and faith instead of might, pride and self-confidence. His disciples are immediately put to shame and silence when Jesus confronts their foibles, “who was the greatest” (Mk 9:34). Jesus offers a completely counterintuitive and counter-cultural perspective: “Whoever wants to be the first must be last of all and servant of all” (Mk 9:35). Indeed, when we shrink our ego to make room for God’s love and mercy, we will find strength to relinquish the darkness in our heart, namely, pride, “envy”, “selfish ambition”, “disputes and conflicts”(Jm 3:16, 4:1).

Recognizing our darkness and fear, let us proclaim:
“God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life. With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, for it is good.” (Ps 54:4, 6).