Frances writes on next Sunday’s Readings :- Greco-Romans all understood life to be about personal advancement up the greasy pole to success, and frequently weren’t overly concerned as to how they achieved this feat. When one thinks of us modern westerners, especially member of both Tory and Labour parties at present, things don’t seem very different. The truly amazing thing about Jesus and the Christian message is that it works entirely differently, and Mark was at pains to point this out to the Christians of Rome.
Since we are made for divinity, we are really meant to model ourselves on Christ and therefore on the life of the Trinity. In our Gospel (Mark 9:30-37) we meet Jesus and the disciples at his second Passion Prediction, just after the Transfiguration: the revealing of his true identity. We find once again that the disciples have completely lost the plot, so much so that far from worrying about what he has just told them, they spend their time arguing as to which of them is the greatest! Yet if they/we truly believe Jesus to be God from God, the Son, then we might be inclined to focus on his self-gift of himself, not simply in his saving passion, but as gift – the ultimate gift of God to humanity. Jesus as God ‘has it all’. What we continually meet in him is the outpouring of himself to us. As the famous hymn of Philippians points out, he did not consider his equality with God something to be grabbed at – unlike ourselves – he emptied himself. When you have it all, all you can do is give it away in graced gift to others. This surely is what Jesus asks each and every Christian to do. It is not that we slowly become impoverished by this act of divine recklessness which we are called to mirror, but rather, like the members of the Trinity in their perpetual gift of themselves, we are ever filled, ever restored. Perhaps this is why Jesus used a tiny child as an exemplar of divine grace at its most abundant, simply because tiny children have little sense of belonging and ownership, they simply delight in the now, God-like.
Our Reading from Wisdom (2:12.17-20), a passage which clearly spoke volumes to Jesus, is all about the great contrast between those who eye others enviously and are full of resentment towards them, finding the generosity and mercy of some others so offensive they needs must destroy them. It could almost have been the job description of his enemies and a picture of his own life and the trouble he caused. Clearly the writer of The Book of Wisdom, probably a 1st century BCE document, composed in Alexandria, understood the concept of eternal life with God, and here in our passage explores the conflict such beliefs provoked between believers and non believers in resurrection to eternal life. As then, Jesus enemies were those whose minds and hearts were fixed on the things of this world and were contemptuous of other values and ways of life.
Our Reading from James (3:16-4:3), written again we should note for a Christian congregation who were clearly also very much members of the society of the time, be they Jew or Greek, since Palestine was heavily Hellenised by the 1st century CE, points powerfully to the wrong-footedness of the world they all, James included, inhabited. I think we have to get away from a narrow literalism about praying properly and then expecting to be rewarded by God, a view which only leads to anxiety and failure and is ultimately about our still being in control. The point he is making is not about our asking God to give us things – new cars or what you will – but to enter in prayer into conversation with the divine. Therefore the point is a far deeper one. You and I are in Christ here and now, already we are heirs with Christ to the Kingdom; already ‘partakers of the divine nature’. What we all have to reckon with is living like it. When we live of that fullness, Christ-like, we shall truly be divine and, like the martyrs, have nothing else to give or gain but our true identities. James, for all his tendency to prosiness has the capacity to really put his finger on the button, as he recognises that the real war is the one which rages within the heart and mind of every human being and most especially in that of the Christian.