It’s as if today’s readings were selected deliberately because of the current political discussions unfolding in debates and in the news media about immigrants and refugees.
Each of our readings this Sunday could serve as a chapter of a handbook or a “reality check” for those who are prone to emphasize their own Christian faith when it suits their own interests, political ambitions, or personal peace of mind, yet refuse hospitality for the stranger, the outcast, the immigrant, or the refugee.
Our First Reading comes to us from the Book of Wisdom (2:12, 17-20), which highlights the ways in which those willing to follow the will of God are perceived by those who wish to maintain their own interests and protect the status quo. When called out for their hypocrisy, selfishness, the abuse of others, and violence, the voices portrayed in Wisdom begins to plot ways to silence the prophet and cover up their indictment:
Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us;
he sets himself against our doings,
reproaches us for transgressions of the law
and charges us with violations of our training.
I am reminded of the latest absurdity in United States political showmanship, where a congressman from Arizona has announced his plans to boycott Pope Francis’s address to a joint session of Congress — an invitation, we should remind the good representative, which was extended by the House of Representatives to His Holiness (and not an imposition solicited by the Pope himself — there’s really nothing else like inviting a guest to your house and then deciding not to show up to the party yourself).
This congressman takes issue with the fact that Pope Francis is anticipated to speak strongly about issues of economic injustice and the perilous environmental crises of our day. Because the United States remains the wealthiest and most militarily powerful State in the world, and because we have been at the forefront of promoting an unsustainable and unbridled consumer-driven economy, it is very likely that Pope Francis will address the ways in which the United States must take responsibility and change its collective, social, and institutional behaviors.
He is likely to call us out on our own claims to be “the world’s leader” and demand that we actually lead in justice, peace, and environmental care. It is clear that, like those voiced in the First Reading, those who take umbrage at Pope Francis’s prophetic challenge want to ignore or silence him “because he is obnoxious to us.”
In our Second Reading, taken from the Letter of James (3:16-4:3), we have a continuation of James’s admonition and exhortation, drawing our focus to the source of division and violence.
Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist,
there is disorder and every foul practice.
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure,
then peaceable, gentle, compliant,
full of mercy and good fruits,
without inconstancy or insincerity.
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace
for those who cultivate peace.
Those who watch debates or see campaign ads know all too well that “jealousy and selfish ambition exist,” and that very often “there is disorder and every foul practice” emerging as a result. Actions and campaigns, slogans and slurs that arise from this disposition are neither wise nor Christian, but violent and disordered.
True wisdom is peaceful, full of mercy, and can be seen in the goodness of actions and words toward others.
Finally, our Gospel, taken from Mark (9:30-37), presents us with a twofold insight. First, the disciples continue what began last Sunday in terms of their increasing misunderstanding of Jesus’s mission and ministry. We see how not even three verses after Jesus explains to them the sacrifice required in following the will of God the disciples begin operating according to selfish and worldly logic: who is the best, which disciple is better, who will Jesus favor? It’s clear that going all the way back to the time of Jesus’s own earthly ministry, those who claimed to be his followers didn’t get it.
Second, there is this interesting teaching and example that Jesus gives:
Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them,
“If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
Taking a child, he placed it in the their midst,
and putting his arms around it, he said to them,
“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
and whoever receives me,
receives not me but the One who sent me.”
Oftentimes, references to Jesus and children elicit an “awwww, isn’t that cute” response. And, in a way, that is perfectly understandable according to the culture and time in which we live.
However, in Jesus’s time children were seen in far less valued terms. They, even more so than women without an explicit tie to a free man, had no legal recourse or status. This is why the bible is always mentioning “widows and orphans,” who occupy the most precarious place in the social strata of the time.
God’s love for these, those who are the most vulnerable and disregarded, is seen in Jesus’s action and in his command to us: if you claim to be my followers, then you will receive those such as this child, those who have no recourse or legal status, those who are despised, forgotten, and overlooked.
In our own day, it seems clear who the most vulnerable and disregarded are, at least in this country they tend to be undocumented immigrants and refugees. The political rhetoric about immigrants has been nothing less than abhorrent and inflammatory, and there is absolutely nothing about it that can be associated with Christianity.
Jesus makes clear in today’s Gospel, supported by the rest of sacred scripture, that we are to welcome undocumented immigrants and refugees. This has been and will likely continue to be a point Pope Francis reiterates in the coming days. If we are unwilling to do that, then we are making it clear that we are unwilling to welcome Jesus Christ. Which, by the way, makes the “amen” at communion time, the moment to affirm acceptance of the Body of Christ, a lie. And as St. Paul says in his First Letter to the Corinthians, to receive the Eucharist and not receive and care for the least among us, is to receive communion unworthily.
Politicians and citizens alike: take note.