Catholic homily outline for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – Lowly greatness

Jesus and the children by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo

Jesus and the children by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo

Central idea: The greatness of the lowly. Doctrine: The virtue of service and the vice of envy. Practical application: Humble and admiring nobility.

Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

 This outline is written to be in accord with the Homiletic Directory issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (2014). (To read an excellent summary of the Homiletic Directory, click here.)

To view Lectionary 134, click here.

Central idea: The greatness of the lowly

Reading 1 Wis 2:12, 17-20

The wicked say:
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.
Let us see whether his words be true;
let us find out what will happen to him.
For if the just one be the son of God, God will defend him
and deliver him from the hand of his foes.
With revilement and torture let us put the just one to the test
that we may have proof of his gentleness
and try his patience.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death;
for according to his own words, God will take care of him.

  • The wicked hate the just man because he reminds them that their way of life is in violation of God’s way. The just man does not even have to speak: his very behavior is a reproach to them. They don’t even stop to ask if they are wrong and he is right, and so, if they should change.
  • Their perverse logic is, let us see if this man really is God’s son by subjecting him to the most difficult test: revilement, torture, and a shameful death. Is this possibly the way Judas thought when he betrayed Christ? Did Judas think his ploy might force Jesus to reveal he was the Messiah or even force God the Father to dramatically rescue Christ?
  • But God respects the freedom of the godly to be good and the wicked to be evil.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 54:3-4, 5, 6 and 8

R. The Lord upholds my life.

O God, by your name save me,
and by your might defend my cause.
O God, hear my prayer;
hearken to the words of my mouth.

For the haughty men have risen up against me,
the ruthless seek my life;
they set not God before their eyes.

Behold, God is my helper;
the Lord sustains my life.
Freely will I offer you sacrifice;
I will praise your name, O LORD, for its goodness.

  • The psalm teaches that man becomes righteous by setting God before his eyes and acting accordingly.
  • Those wicked men the prophet spoke of are right when they said of the just one, “God will take care of him,” but not the way they assumed. God will both let the wicked get what they want—but it won’t end they way they wanted—and the same for the just man: God will uphold his life for eternal life.

Reading 2 Jas 3:16-4:3

Beloved:
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.

Where do the wars
and where do the conflicts among you come from?
Is it not from your passions
that make war within your members?
You covet but do not possess.
You kill and envy but you cannot obtain;
you fight and wage war.
You do not possess because you do not ask.
You ask but do not receive,
because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

  • The wisdom from below says to get everything you can. One who embraces this receives motivation through “jealousy and selfish ambition,” but it results in “disorder and every foul practice.”
  • The wisdom from above says to set God before your eyes and obey his will. God motivates the person who embraces this way with gifts which confirm its goodness:

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.

  • Christian wisdom is built on Christ’s revelation: our good and bad behavior arises from our interior dispositions. What is inside us finds its way out. Still, God stands ready to give us what we need so that the good in our hearts can be healed and grow.

Alleluia Cf. 2 Thess 2:14

God has called us through the Gospel
to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  • It is God’s will that we share in the glorious kingship of Christ.

Gospel Mk 9:30-37

Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee,
but he did not wish anyone to know about it.
He was teaching his disciples and telling them,
“The Son of Man is to be handed over to men
and they will kill him,
and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.”
But they did not understand the saying,
and they were afraid to question him.

They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house,
he began to ask them,
“What were you arguing about on the way?”
But they remained silent.
They had been discussing among themselves on the way
who was the greatest.
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.”

  • Just as in last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus asks his apostles a question. This time they do not answer, because they are ashamed to. Their reasoning is probably something like this. Jews are greater than Gentiles. The disciples are greater than the Jews in general. The Twelve are greater than the rest of the disciples. Therefore, one of the Twelve must be the greatest among this select group.
  • But one reason they are silent is that the Lord’s greatness is so out of proportion to whatever favor or merit they can claim.
  • In addition, they know Jesus well enough to intuit that there is something wrong about exercising greatness and power as the world does.
  • Jesus’ response is as surprising and profound as his revelation in last week’s Gospel about each one of us having a cross and that cross being our way to salvation.
    • “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” The example he provides to illustrate what he means is receiving a child, the epitome of unimportance. Receiving a child in Christ’s name is the way to receive Christ, and thus the Father. Stooping down to serve the most lowly is the way to reach the heights of Christ and God the Father.
    • If anyone wishes. This is an ambition Our Lord approves of.

Doctrine: The virtue of service and the vice of envy

  • As the verse before the Gospel expressed, “God has called us through the Gospel to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
  • Because we share in the Kingship of Christ, we are all kings or princes, queens or princesses.
  • However, Christ the King’s way of ruling is service: “drawing all men to himself by giving his life as a ransom” (CCC 786).
  • Thus, “to reign is to serve him.” We exercise our royal rule by serving Christ. This is especially true in the case of serving anyone in need, “in whom the Church recognizes the image of her poor and suffering founder.” (CCC 786)
  • This service includes our obedience to the moral law. As Pope St. Leo the Great put it, “What, indeed, is as royal for a soul as to govern the body in obedience to God?” (Quoted in CCC 786)
  • An enemy of the spirit of royal service is the vice of envy. Envy, “a capital sin,” is “sadness at the sight of another’s goods and the immoderate desire to acquire them for oneself, even unjustly. When it wishes grave harm to a neighbor it is a mortal sin.” (CCC 2539)
  • Augustine sees envy as the origin of many other evils: “hatred, detraction, calumny, joy caused by the misfortune of a neighbor, and displeasure caused by his prosperity.” (CCC 2539) Today’s readings are chock full of examples of these bitter fruits.

Practical application: Humble and admiring nobility

  • Every human being knows deep down—even if not consciously—that he or she is very important.
  • As Christians, we should call to mind often that we are children of God and far more important than any human royalty in any time or place.
  • At the same time, our hearts are wounded by original sin, from our experiences, and from our personal sins. In addition, other people often do not recognize our importance.
  • As Fr. Robert Spitzer points out in his insightful work on the four levels of happiness, when our own importance is not recognized by others, we can become sad, depressed, angry, or contemptuous.
    • He also points out two practical ways to respond to these promptings of envy or misguided self-criticism.
      • When we see something another has and we don’t, we can respond with humility rather than humiliation. Humility sees the truth. The other really has received some gift we have not. For example, this other person excels over me because God has given him three times more energy than me.
      • A second good response is admiration at the good the other possesses. Why admiration? It can encourage us to do more or better. For example, the one who has excelled over me has so much more energy. So, I want to cultivate the energy God has given me and even find ways to increase it so I can do better.
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