The Crowning with Thorns, Michelangelo Merisi [Caravaggio] (1571–1610), c.1605; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Fr Neil’s homily for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, 19 September 2021

In our first reading, the ungodly lay plans to taunt and torture the righteous man. Why? Because his righteousness shines a light on their hypocrisy and ungodly way of life. It’s hard to live with your own self deception when someone else by their own manner of living uncovers our corrupt desires. Instinctively we seek to hide in the shadows, just as Adam hid from God in the garden of Eden for fear that his shame might be revealed. If righteousness and holiness does not move us to a healthy ambition for the things of God, then we will — in turn — be repelled by it and seek to do away with it.

Evil takes on a sneering accusative tone: “Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God’s son, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries.”¹

It is chilling how these words from Wisdom foreshadow the events of our Lord’s passion as told in Luke:

but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!²

The ungodly in the book of Wisdom are almost certainly the ‘great and the good,’ and not your average run-of-the-mill low-life. One has only to reflect for a moment on the scandalous events of Cardinal Pell’s imprisonment to perhaps get a picture of what type of people these are.

It should be no great surprise why Christ was more readily welcome and accepted by the ‘sinners’ rather than the religious. A known sinner has nothing to hide but is completely aware of his need for salvation. Barring a few exceptions, when celebrating mass in the local prison it was marked by a greater silent reverence and respect than what you might experience in many local parish churches. One of the reasons for this was that there was no pretence of holiness — those there were criminals, in need of God’s forgiveness and they knew it.

Christ angered so many of the ‘religious’ because he saw past their ‘public face’ to uncover a heart ruled by the passions of ambition and power, a heart that was in as much need of salvation as the more obvious public ‘sinner’.

James in our second reading speaks about this internal jealousy and selfish ambition as the reason for the disordered wrangling within the community. There is conflict within the person who complains that God is not answering their prayers, and among other members of the community driven by the uncontrolled passions for honour and vainglory. The disorder within the community reveals for some that their desire is not for God’s way but man’s.

James goes on to speak of

the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity.³

In the Gospel today, our Lord continues to try and teach his disciples about his forthcoming passion. In so doing he is revealing that the way of divine wisdom and life is found through humility. Christ is both Son of God and Son of Man, yet in an act of humility he is willing to embrace the cross. To be schooled in wisdom presupposes an element of humility in a willingness to acknowledge we have much to learn and are not in control of everything. If we are aware of our need to sit at the feet of teachers and scholars, how much more should we be open to hearing the wisdom of God’s Word, who created the universe and holds all thing together in his being?

Our Lord becomes aware that the disciples were just not ‘getting it.’ This talk of Christ’s death only fuelled the worldly desires within them as they began to argue among themselves about who was the greatest and would rightly take leadership once Christ had died.

To reinforce the message of the cross, the way to life and glory in the kingdom of God is through humility. The cross reveals that the Son of Man, the Christ, willingly became a servant, embracing death, so that life might be available for all who call upon him.

And he sat down and called the Twelve and he said to them, “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”⁴

In worldly terms the child was a symbol of the powerless, who had no influence and could court no power for any ambitions they might have of being recognised and be honoured by others.

It is indeed in the serving, accepting and associating with the seemingly powerless that we encounter the living God, for we imitate Christ himself who came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.⁵

¹ Wisdom 2:17
² Luke 23:35
³ James 3:17
⁴ Mark 9:35–37
⁵ Cf Mark 10:45