Reflection for Sunday – September 19, 2021

Readings: Wisdom2: 12,17-20; James 3:16-4:3; Mark 9:30-37
Preacher: Deirdre McKiernan Hetzler

In the Gospel, Mark often portrays the disciples as slow. And dense. Today, Jesus is speaking about his upcoming death. For the second time. And they’re arguing about who among them is the greatest! When asked later about it, they are too embarrassed to say.

Yet, if we’re honest, faced with a prediction too horrible to imagine, don’t we look for a distraction? (Consider society’s lack of response to the bombshell U.N. “code red” climate study.)

Mark says Jesus and the disciples are “on the way.” That’s a code for traveling towards the cross. Like us, they were ordinary folks. Given a mission they did not fully comprehend. A suffering Messiah was not on their radar. So Jesus is trying to deepen their understanding of what discipleship involves.  How much will be required of them.

The usual connection between the first reading and the Gospel is a bit less obvious today. Contrasting images of the wicked and the just, Wisdom says the ungodly see the righteous as a nuisance. Critical of their selfish choices. Eventually, unhappy endings will be the result.

James’ letter is also concerned with ethical conduct. Almost exclusively. Comparing worldly wisdom with that which comes from God.  Our listening to the daily news verifies his observation: “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.” It is our passions (read: ideologies) that create conflict, he notes. When we pray God to champion our will, our cause, our prayers go unanswered. This whole reading is a call to conversion. To true discipleship.

Years ago, there was a popular slogan suggested for decision-making: “What would Jesus do?”  Great motto. The problem was with its simplistic understanding of who Jesus really was.

Jesus and the disciples are “on the way.” And so are we. What is our concept of discipleship today? Do you and I really fully understand the mission–his mission–that Jesus has given to us? What was Jesus like?  What Jesus are we following? The Jesus of the Beatitudes poses significant challenges for us, especially today. What kind of discipleship does following this Jesus yield?

“Feed the hungry.” Recent legislation has temporarily reduced food insecurity, but that expires shortly. Millions still remain food insecure. Far more than food pantries can provide. What, then, does discipleship mean?

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Thousands flee violence in Central America. We detain them in verifiably inhumane conditions. Both in Mexico and in camps here. Now, we are facing refugees from Afghanistan. Many risked their lives to save us. Granted, we have a right to

our own security. But are there other ways to do that? Better and more just ways? What, then, does discipleship mean?

“I was sick and you cared for me.” In the midst of this global pandemic, there are scientifically proven ways–vaccines, masks, social distancing—  to protect one another from spreading the disease. Is that really a bridge too far for a disciple?  What, then, does discipleship mean?

 “ I was in prison and you visited me.” On this 50th anniversary of the Attica riot, the worst in U.S. history, little has changed. Furthermore, many people on death row have been declared innocent and exonerated.  What does discipleship tell us about reforming our justice system?

We are not going to be nailed to a cross for our faith in Jesus. But we are asked to make deliberate, even costly, choices because of him. To believe in Jesus is to be like him. Just as his way of life caused him to suffer, so if we follow him, if we choose discipleship, we are also asked to accept the consequences. As we struggle on this journey of discipleship, we can take comfort in the unconditional love of our God. Wherever we are on the journey. In the words of the Psalm,  “God is my helper; the Lord sustains my life.” Good news indeed!

Deirdre McKiernan Hetzler
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