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The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (9/19/2021)

Ps. 54; Jeremiah 11:18-20; James 3:13—4:10; Mark 9:30-37

Passions, What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder (vv. 1, 2a).

At first blush one might think James generalizes too freely about murder; but does he? Consider God’s self-revelation by the Ten Commandments; an honest inventory exposes willful sin making us murderers and liars. To put a fine point on James’ allegation; when adulterous thoughts hold sway in one’s heart, the desire to be shed of a spouse is implicit (cp. Mt. 5:21, 27, 28).

Murder and dissembling are at work through the entire Decalogue; God’s enmity to the devil declares he is, “a murderer and a liar from the beginning” (Jn. 8:44). Worse for us; persistent, unrepentant sin rejects baptismal adoption for return as devilish offspring.

King David ordered a census of Israel, an offense for which there would be consequence. Given a choice, David left punishment with the Lord, praying, “Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand men” (2 Sam. 24:14).

Joseph, Jacob’s younger son fell into the “tender mercies” of jealous elder brothers; so also, Jesus would be delivered into the hands of Israel’s elders to do “to him whatever they pleased” (Mk. 9:13).

Jesus for a second time privately taught, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise” (v. 31). His disciples avoided the prophesy, “which they did not understand” (v. 32). How could it be otherwise; today, do we understand the warning of James, that our passions necessitated Jesus’ death; so, we pray!

But Jesus did not allow the necessity of his Passion to drop from the apostolic curriculum; it is required knowledge, neither optional nor to be avoided.

On journey to Capernaum the “band of brothers” descended into competitive bickering over their relative importance in Jesus’ church. On entering the house-church; Jesus inquired, “What were you discussing on the way?” (v. 33) thereby returning to the crux of his Passion at the hands of violent men (cf. Mt. 11:12).

The brothers admitted to quarreling over “who was the greatest” (Mk. 9:34). Perhaps animus existed toward Peter, whom Jesus designated “Rock”, and their titular head; or were angst toward James and John suspected of lobbying Jesus for elevated positions (cf. 10:35, 41; Mt. 20:20, 21).

Jesus’ teaching about new Israel’s exodus had so far fallen on deaf ears; the disciples unable to accept his rejection and death at the hands of Jewish elders; nor receive Gentiles (cf. Ex. 12:48, 49) their co-equals in the Way.

With heady recalcitrance in play, no wonder the Apostles quarreled over “greatness”? Today’s Reading from Jeremiah is a prophesy of Jesus, “I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter” (Jer. 11:19) handed-over to ruthless men opposed to God’s reign by his Lamb.

In the resurrection Christians understand the Loaves and Jesus’ passion, being two sides of the same reality; Supper and Cross, Cross and Supper, each informs the other to repentant faith and salvation by word and sacrament.

Jesus is brother of all who receive him, having committed himself into the hands of violent men. For our righteousness, Jesus made himself least and servant of all in death. Jesus’ exodus was coming to its conclusion, but his Apostles warfare for position, failed to comprehend worldly values being upside-down those of heaven.

Jesus then provided his Apostles a tangible demonstration of his kingdom’s greatness gold standard; enfolding a child, least and servant of all in the world. By his action Jesus adopted the child’s helpless and needy situation for his own glory and greatness on the cross, God’s Lamb to the slaughter.

The conundrum of “greatness” that all disciples must grasp is: Kingdom service against worldly vanity. On the Way to eternal Life, the two are irreconcilable. Apart from being new creations by Baptism, many remain or return into the hands and ways of men for blandishments.

As we advance in understanding Christ’s passion, the Spirit continues bringing to humble repentance; inspiring putting-aside quarrels; and extending forgiveness, love, and service to brothers and sisters enfolded in Christ’s peace.

When inherent passions war and dominate us; fratricide and denial (Gen. 4:9) lurks. Biblical examples abound, certainly: Cain and Abel; and the jealous brothers of Joseph believing his elevation in the family by a glorious “robe of many colors” was fatherly injustice (Gen. 37:3). The elder brothers consigned Joseph to a pit for dead; but later resurrected.

Waring passions bespeak murderous hearts; if unchecked by repentant faith, they would destroy Jesus’ family. Against such devilish impulse stands the Loaves and the passion of Christ.

As the church has little children among us, they are living parables of Kingdom greatness. Last Sunday a father complained Jesus’ disciples were unable to cast-out a demon from his child. Jesus urged, “All things are possible for the one who believes” (Mk. 9:21), at which the father prayed to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief (v.24) recognizing true greatness resides in our on-going need in Christ.

The Prayer of The Church, commences our Eucharist Service; from this Prayer (v. 29) faith, bathed in received gospel word, looks to the Loaves and the Passion; the Passion and the Loaves. Amen.


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