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Homily, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Catechetical Sunday

25th Sunday of the Year B -- September 19, 2021, Msgr. Joseph K. Ntuwa

Wisdom 2:12,17-20; James 3:16 – 4:3; Mark 9:30-37

A well-known spiritual writer, Fr Thomas Green, once made a significant distinction with regard to discipleship in his book, Darkness in the Marketplace (p. 39-53). He asked the question, ‘Are we working for the Lord’ or ‘are we doing the Lord’s work?’ Most of us, I believe want to do what is right and good, and when we are trying to do that, we tend to believe that we ‘doing the Lord’s work’. What Father Green maintains is that that may not be true at all. We may indeed be ‘working for the Lord’ in our own chosen way but we may not be ‘doing the Lord’s work’, just because we might not be doing what the Lord actually wants us to do.

This issue arises because of what we just heard in today’s gospel. There is a huge contrast in the story between what Jesus is thinking and talking about, and what is on the minds of his disciples. Jesus has just experienced his transfiguration on the mountain, and he is realizing now that the powerful and comforting experience was a prelude to what he must begin to prepare himself for- rejection, suffering and a criminal’s death. On the other hand, the disciples’ thoughts and words are elsewhere. They have been greatly impressed with their own self-importance as Jesus handpicked them, and they are now having an argument about which of them is the most important member of the group. Jesus deflates the conceit of the apostles by telling them that the leader among his disciples must be the servant of others. They have been ‘working for the Lord’ but they have not been doing the ‘Lord’s work’. Ambition in itself is a good thing. The question is: What are ambitions about? St Paul says, ‘Be ambitious for the higher gifts!’.  

As we go through the pages of the Bible, we find many examples of this difference between ‘God’s work’ and what his people are doing as they “work for God”. The people of Israel, for example, gave great attention to ‘working for God’. They were constantly offering sacrifices to him in the Temple, but the prophets told them that it was not at all God’s work, because they didn’t care about the poor. The young man in the gospel story who had kept the commandments since his youth was commended by the Lord for ‘working for God’ but, Jesus told him, if he wanted to do God’s work, he must now sell everything and follow him. He went away sad, because it is much more comfortable to “work for God ‘than to ‘do God’s work’ (Mt 19/16-22). Martha, working away in the kitchen, was certainly ‘working for God’ but it was her sister Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, who was ‘doing God’s work’ (Lk 10:38-42). For the disciples in today’s gospel, “doing God’s work” would mean a complete change of attitude, and that’s what Jesus is demanding of them.

It may be a let-down for some of us to have to face a painful fact with regard to our own discipleship. While we might think that we were, so to speak, ‘doing it all for the Lord’, yet we may find ourselves only be ‘working for God’, and not actually “doing God’s work’! How can we recognize the difference?  The difference, as Fr Green points in his book, is that there is no way of getting to Easter Sunday except through Good Friday. Jesus, at the start of today’s gospel reading, foresaw what was going to happen to him, yet he did not change course. That is often where our interpretation of discipleship, becomes a limited interpretation. We too can be good at foreseeing where a certain course of action may lead us, and it may not be pleasant. We foresee opposition, hostility, or ridicule or some kind of loss ahead of us, and so we change course. Not that we turn to anything bad, but we content ourselves with ‘working for the Lord’ in the safer, less controversial ways that we ourselves prefer to choose. We try to get to Easter by bypassing Good Friday.  I’m sure the Lord will not condemn us for that, as he didn’t condemn Martha for the choice she had made. Jesus only pointed out that Mary had chosen the better part. Today, the Lord may be giving us that message too. Are you ‘doing God’s work’ or only ‘working for God’?

Each year, the Catholic Church in the United States designates the third Sunday in September as “Catechetical Sunday”— a day on which to celebrate and pray for the Church’s mission to teach the Gospel to all people. This year’s theme is “Say the Word and My Soul Shall Be Healed”. We are familiar with these words which we pray at Mass before receiving holy Communion. Jesus was amazed at this simple and sincere faith.   The role of the Catechist is, first of all, to be a person of faith, a disciple of Jesus, and then to be a witness to others and a companion on their journey of faith. I thank all our catechists who have selflessly taken on this important ministry of passing on the faith to others. May God continue to bless your ministry.

 

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