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September 16, 2009
Breaking Open the Word
Sept. 20: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Overview: This week’s readings show how goodness and truth are scorned and vilified by those who don’t believe in God. The Book of Wisdom was written by an unknown Hellenistic (Greek) Jew sometime during the first century before Christ. The first few chapters of the book contrasts the righteous person and the wicked. The “just one,” the author says, experiences “revilement and torture” from the ungodly. They hate him because the very manner of his life, his goodness and purity, draws attention to their wickedness. From earliest times the Church has seen in this passage a prediction of Christ’s passion. It was chosen for its obvious connection with this week’s Gospel. The second reading is related to the first insofar as it describes the characteristics of the righteous person who is “first of all pure.” The fruit of righteousness, James says, is “sown in peace.” The righteous person, in other words, experiences deep, inner peace that comes from a clear conscience; a peace that bears fruit in the world. By contrast, the unrighteous person is full of “jealousy and selfish ambition,” the fruit of which is “disorder and every foul practice.” This week’s Gospel has two parts. First, we hear Christ’s second prediction of his passion (the first one occurred after Peter’s profession of faith). The second part contains Christ’s teachings about what it means to be a disciple. The Twelve not only wanted to learn from Jesus, they want to emulate him. The true disciple, he tells them, is one who is willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of others. Like Christ, the true disciple is one who is humble enough to stoop down and embrace those who are marginalized and ridiculed.
Key verse: “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us” (Wis 2:12).
“Catechism of the Catholic Church”: “Before Christ’s second coming, the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the ‘mystery of iniquity’ in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth” (No. 675).
Pope Benedict XVI: “In the history of the Church there will always be passion and persecution. And it is persecution itself which, according to Tertullian’s famous words, become ‘the seed of Christians,’ the source of mission of Christians to come” (“Jesus, the Apostles, and the Early Church”).
Application: In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told the crowds, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven!” (Mt 5:12). This week’s readings remind us that belief in God, fidelity to the Church and moral rectitude rarely wins praise from the rich and powerful. Goodness, truth and beauty are often ridiculed and sometimes persecuted. But the righteous person stays true to the faith no matter what, for he or she will be rewarded with immortality.