25 Sunday B #134
Wis 2, 12. 17-20
Jas 3, 16. 4, 3
Mk 9, 30-37
Deacon Tom Cornell
St. Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
Sept. 20, 2009
Today’s Gospel follows a pattern, as in last week's: Jesus predicts his passion, death and resurrection, his disciples fail to understand, then Jesus instructs them on the true nature of discipleship. The disciples can’t take it in and they are afraid to question him. They are distracted, their minds are elsewhere. When Jesus asks them what they were just arguing about out on the road, they are so embarrassed they can’t answer. But Jesus knows, of course. They have been trying to establish a pecking order, who is going to be number one, number two &c. So Jesus offers them a lesson about what it means to be a true disciple of his. He introduces a child, enfolding him in his arms. In this way Jesus forges a new set of relationships: welcome the little child and you welcome me; welcome me and you welcome God himself. The point is, stand with the powerless, the marginalized and the disenfranchised rather than seek favor by catering to the powerful.
In this story, the disciples are mirror images of ourselves. Their failures, their unwillingness to understand, prefigure the patterns of future generations of disciples over the ages, people just like you and me, slow to understand the radical message of Jesus, and slower yet to follow. Jesus didn’t give up on the first disciples. He won’t give up on us either.
Today the nation is debating health care, or more precisely, health care insurance. Our bishops have insisted time and time again that health care is not a privilege, not something to be earned or something to be bought and paid for but a right, a natural right we are born with: every man, woman and child has the moral right to medical care because each and every one is made in the image and likeness of God and redeemed by the blood of Christ. “How about immigrants, how about illegal aliens?” you may ask. If the illegal alien is in the womb? Of course! We Catholics believe in the right to life. We are against abortion. We all know that! But how about just after she is born, if she needs special care to survive? Does she have the right to life then? Does the right to life end at birth? How about the parents? Alien, citizen, what does it matter? They are brothers and sisters in Christ! When Joseph fled to Egypt with Mary and the Baby Jesus, did he have a valid visa? These questions are silly and distracting, and they are meant to be. Don’t fall for it! Don’t be distracted! Keep your eye on the prize, hold on: access to health care for all as a matter of right! The problem is how to make a moral right a legal right.
This is not the place to advocate one political solution to the problem of health care, or the lack of it, in our country, over another political solution. This is not the place for politics. But this is the place to insist upon the right to life and the right to the means to life for each and every one, not eighty percent or ninety percent but all, one hundred percent. And further, let me suggest that, as you examine the political debate, you take a look at those who are sniping at every effort for real reform. Are they speaking the language of unity and compassion, or are they speaking the language of division, hatred and fear?
The language of hate and fear was not the language of Pope John Paul to the General Assembly of the United Nations thirteen years ago. He urged us to set aside fear. He spoke of a common effort “to build a civilization of love, founded on the universal values of peace, solidarity, justice, and liberty.” Health care is a matter of justice, because it is each person’s due. It is a matter of solidarity, because we are all of one body. It is a matter of liberty, because the sick are not free. It is a matter of peace, because where justice is denied peace can not flourish. It is a step, a small one, but a step toward building a civilization of love, and a small step away from the brink of disaster.
Fear is a mighty weapon, a weapon of oppressors. The truth will make you free. The truth is that there is nothing to fear, nothing to fear but sin, and it is a most serious sin to kill the innocent. Fear sin! It is a sin to deny our brothers and sister and their, our children the means to life, and a healthy life at that. Human decency demands no less. Authentic religion demands no less. God demands no less: do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God (Mi 6,8). If this is not the place to say so, this place has no reason to stand.