Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (19 September 2021)

Recently, during an in-service day with staff from a primary school, there was a discussion on Veritas/ Truth. The dialogue focused on the difficulties of going against the grain, the prevailing messages of our culture e.g. we consume our way to happiness, social media/ conspiracy theories, pervasive ads. One can easily believe that today’s dictum is “I consume, therefore I am.” In one ad, sibling rivalry will be solved with the purchase of a smart phone. The isolation which the child is experiencing will be solved with a device that will in all probability further accentuate the isolation he is experiencing. What irony or untruth?  According to Walter Brueggemann, such an ideology of “militant consumerism” exercises a ‘totalizing effect on us’, by its technological availability and its capacity to control public imagination through the media. The participating teachers expressed how difficult it is to convey the truth of the Good News of Jesus Christ to children in such a milieu. 

What is Good News? And what can we glean from this passage in Mark that might help us this September – a September which marks 20 years since “9/11”; years of war on terror, a trial in Paris of alleged perpetrators of terror attacks, the Taliban back in power in Afghanistan. September too is the month when the Church invites us to celebrate the season of creation even in the context of wild fires, flooding and the melting of permafrost over the surface of the earth.

The Gospel writings marked a new genre in literature, the story of what leadership and power really mean (messiah), and the response in true discipleship that includes sacrifice and service of the common good. According to Mark, the disciples found this difficult to comprehend. In chapters 8, 9 and 10, Mark repeats a pattern three times: prediction of the passion (8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34), inappropriate (misapprehensions) response on the part of the disciples (9:33-34), and an instruction by Jesus on true discipleship (9:35-50). Perhaps, the evangelist realised how difficult it was for Jesus’ followers to hear his message, in 9:32 we are told they did not understand and were afraid to ask, hence the repetition perhaps. It is difficult to listen deeply, to be transformed by the message and to act out of it in service of the common good, true discipleship, true greatness in the Reign of God. This is still difficult today.

At a recent General Chapter of the Cabra Congregation the facilitator led us through an exercise in listening. He cited research that said 70% of people listen for an opportunity to interrupt and begin talking themselves. Only 30% listen to really hear what the other is saying. However, in listening intently, one can ‘ignite’ passion in the other, one can empower the other – surely a sign of true greatness. Jesus clearly listened to what the disciples were talking about on the road, although they were afraid to admit to their desires for greatness. It is hard to hear that true greatness lies in welcoming a child.

Paradoxically then, to be great in the Kin-dom of God is to listen to empower; to ‘take the knee’ in respect of the other; to welcome and give hospitality to the little ones, voiceless and vulnerable; tell another story, of leadership through service, promote the common good, live in sustainable ways and believe ‘enough is plenty’. Good News.

One radical ‘retelling’ of the good news for our times, is Judy Cannato’s observation : “The keeping of the memory and mission of Jesus is not about making him the object of our worship but about making ourselves the locus of the reign of God” (Radical Amazement) What a challenge!

Sr Colette Mary O’Kane OP

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