9-19-2021 Reflection

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

Say the words “the pursuit of happiness” in conversation with the average educated American, and as he or she reacts with a knowing smile, they’ll recognize a phrase from one of our country’s most precious documents: the Declaration of Independence.  In that masterful piece of writing, Thomas Jefferson specified that notion as a human right, alongside life and liberty.

I don’t think I’m far off the mark when I opine that a lot of false understanding has crept into that word “happiness.” Our present day culture is way wrong with their definitions. The root cause of that erroneous outlook lies in the change wrought to the meaning of the last word in the trio: “liberty.  Liberty is not license.

Here at the Eucharist we celebrate Christ’s real Presence among us, and call on Him for whatever help we need to lives He espoused. Obviously His way conflicts with the one espoused by our current culture.  That puts power, wealth, fame and pleasure aside as ways to happiness.  Granted, those four have a mighty drawing power. They have been campaigning to be our life’s goals since long before biblical times.

Jesus spells out His formula quite clearly in today’s Gospel selection: humility and service of others is what makes for true happiness in this life.  Nothing else.  Yet most thoughtful people think of Saint Teresa of Calcutta and her life choices, along with those of every saint in the calendar, young as well as old, as somehow on target with true Christian living.  To someone of my advanced age that is of supreme importance as material for examination as what I’ll call the “Great Appointment” is nearer than it was when I was young.

We also know how annoying such a lifestyle is to the opposition, here portrayed as “the wicked” in this weekend’s selection from the Book of Wisdom. “Let’s kill him!” they shriek.  The gospels present remarkably similar words on people’s lips on a certain Friday afternoon: “Crucify Him!”

The good news is that we can take comfort from the fact that Jesus is right as rain with His take on these matters, and has been all along.  We agree that virtue is best expressed in action.  Through humility and service of others.

Another non-Christian Founding Father of our country, Benjamin Franklin, who worked with Thomas Jefferson, wrote this comment about the concept of greatness in 1729, long before 1776:

“If we were as industrious to become good as to make ourselves great, we should become really great by being good, and the number of valuable people would be much increased.  But it is a grand mistake to think of being great without goodness,” Franklin continued.  “And I pronounce it as certain, that there was never yet a truly great person who was not at the same time truly virtuous.”

Reading I:  Wisdom 2: 12, 17-20
The author presents the wicked (perhaps apostate Jews) as having a false understanding of human life.  They desire to prosecute the just person because his/her life is a direct reproach of their own.

Reading II:  James 3: 16-4:3
James presents a synthesis of Christian wisdom in contrast to the earthly kind.  He considers false wisdom because it ultimately causes strife in the community and provides remedies for it.

The Gospel:  Mark 9: 30-37
Jesus makes His second prediction of His passion, but its net effect is lost on the disciples. He also teaches them another lesson about His fresh outlook on life, namely, that the whole idea of “wishing to be first” is an empty pursuit in God’s kingdom. The true hallmarks of a Christian are humility and service to others.