Sunday Sermon for September 25, 2012, the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Readings: Wis 2:12, 17-20; Jas 3:16-4:3; Mk 9:30-37

In the second reading St. James speaks of the wisdom which is from above; the contrast is obviously wisdom that is natural or worldly. St. James makes the differences clear, but we see specific examples of each kind of wisdom in the other two readings.

The counter presented by St. James to the wisdom from above is jealousy and selfishness. If we think about human wisdom for a moment, it most often comes down to wanting more, getting ahead, moving up the ladder regarding money or power. In other words, it tends to be selfish and jealous, always wanting for the self what others have or comparing the self to others.

In the Book of Wisdom, from which we hear in the first reading, we are told about the wicked who want to beset the just one. While this sort of thing happens with some regularity, although not to the point of wanting to kill the just one, we can understand it as a Messianic prophecy pertaining to Jesus.

It is interesting that the just are obnoxious to the wicked. Jesus never did anything sinful, although He did challenge the Jews of His day to live their faith in a more fervent manner. It was not His words, however, that caused the irritation in the people who wanted to kill Him. In fact, we are told several times that the leaders were trying to catch Him in His speech, but were never able to do so.

It was the way that Jesus lived His life that was unacceptable to the people who hated Him. Perhaps they thought He was trying to make Himself appear better than they or “holier than thou,” but that was really just their own consciences bothering them. They were jealous because He was living what they professed but failed themselves to live.

Was it because they wanted people to think well of themselves that they were jealous of Jesus? Was it because His righteousness highlighted their lack of righteousness? Was it because they wanted to be thought the highest and the holiest? We do not know, but it is pretty obvious that their jealousy had such a grip on them that they could no longer think clearly or rejoice in the good.

In the Gospel we see the selfishness of the Apostles come through in one of the most dramatic examples we can imagine. Our Lord tells them that He is going to be handed over and killed. We are told that they were afraid to question Him on the matter, but immediately they began arguing among themselves about which one was the greatest. Their Master just informed them all that He as going to be killed, and they seem not to even hear Him because they are caught up in themselves.

As the old saying goes “the more things change, the more they stay the same” well human nature has not changed, even though the world and the cultures in which we live have undergone severe changes. Today we see selfish people thinking only about themselves. In fact, so many people have become hardened to the evil around them to the point that they are not even fazed when a tragedy takes place. They shrug it off with an “oh, that’s too bad” and focus right back on themselves because, after all, the tragedy could certainly not compare with the greatness of my own self.

We look around at the people we know and find that very few are truly happy. One reason for this is that we are never satisfied with what we have; we always want more. This is, indeed, selfishness, but it is often also jealousy because we want what others have. This causes an interior tension within us, but it also causes friction with others.

St. James makes clear that this is where the wars and conflicts among us originate. Selfishness and jealousy develop and flower into “disorder and every foul practice.” He points out that when we do these things our focus is most often on our own passions. This is the wisdom of the world and, hopefully, we have all had enough of it so that we can reject it and walk away from it.

While this would be excellent, we still need to replace it with something else. St. James presents to us wisdom from above which is pure, peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. Does this not sound like a far more excellent way?

The wisdom from above can be yours, but it is going to require a change in the focus of our lives. Instead of focusing on ourselves, we have to begin by loving God and neighbor. We have to pray, be simple and make Heaven our goal.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit