25 Sunday B - Shorter Reflection

23rd September 2018, 25th Ordinary Sunday, Year B.
Wisdom 2:12, 17-20 / James 3:16 – 4:3 / Mark 9:30-37
When we were in primary school, especially in the lower primary, there were two ways to gauge our language proficiency.
One was spelling.  The teacher would dictate a word or a phrase, and we would scramble to spell it out.

As we moved on, we will come to composition. The teacher would give us a topic or subject to write on, with a quota of words, and with a given time limit.
Among the many topics that are given for composition, there was a common one, and the topic was:  What do I want to be when I grow up? What is my ambition?
Of course that topic was meant to help us to be imaginative and to think about our future career.
So there will be those who would say that they want to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, manager, and pilot.
The more imaginative and adventurous ones would say that they want to be a footballer, actor, singer, wrestler or even an undertaker (must be joking).
But jokes aside, nobody ever said they wanted to be the Pope, a priest, or a religious.
So it is interesting to see that even in primary school, we were already influenced and programmed to be ambitious, to be the best and nothing less, and to aim for the top.
Nothing really wrong with that actually, except that it is not just a cliché, but it is like a law in itself. Just like when it is said “When you drink, don’t drive”.  It is not a cliché; it is a law.
To be the top, to be the best, that is the unwritten but understood law of survival in our society.
Right from a tender age, we are programmed to go for No. 1. Nothing wrong with that, except that it can breed some bad attitudes.
Surely, as we all know, there is only a limited place at the top.
So inevitably, there will be competition, and the 2nd reading from the letter of St. James tells us of the consequences.
St. James said: “Whenever you find jealousy and ambition, you find disharmony and wicked things of every kind being done.”
And then he moves to something more serious:  “Where do these wars and battles between yourself first start?”
And he points out:  “Isn’t it precisely in the desires fighting inside your own selves!  You want something, and you haven’t got it, so you are prepared to kill, and to get your way by force.”
In a way, that was what the disciples were doing in today’s gospel. They were said to be arguing among themselves, but it encompasses jealousy, ambition and desires.
They were arguing among themselves to see which of them was the greatest. They too, like ourselves, were programmed to be ambitious, and to go for the top, even if it means pushing others aside, even if it means to step on others.
And Jesus took the opportunity of the situation to teach a lesson, a lesson of life.
A lesson in the form of a child. Putting a child in front of them, Jesus said:  “Anyone who welcomes a child in my name, welcomes me.”
To welcome means to be open; to welcome means to be teachable.
A child is open and teachable.  So the question is “What are we teaching our children?”
A catechist was recalling this instance when she overheard a young girl using a four-letter word (obscene).
So she thought she better have a word with her.  So she said:  Hey, where did you learn that word from? The girl replied: “From a movie.” “And why did you watch that movie?”
The girl replied, “My father was watching it.”
So what can we say?  If we mourn about the values of the young, it is simply that we are reaping what we have sown.  They are only doing what we have taught them.
The children are taught all the skills to make a living.  In school, the “Primary Threes” are taught how to use power point.
But if our children are just taught how to make a living but not how to live life, then it may just be power but no point.
So what values are we teaching our children?
Children learn a lot from story-telling.  So what stories are we telling our children?
Sometimes, the only stories we ever tell our children are ghost stories. But telling ghost stories only create fear in the hearts of children. And not only that, ghost stories glorify the devil.  It makes the devil look powerful.
Yet, do we tell our children stories about Jesus, or stories about the saints?
Looking at the week ahead, there is the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. There are many inspiring stories about them that we can share with our children.
For example, the story of St. Raphael and how he was sent by God to the young Tobias to guide him and help him along the thorny difficulties and also brought healing to the eyes of the older Tobias.
So archangels also teach us and that though they stand before the throne of God, they also walk humbly with us as our servants. In them we see what it means when Jesus said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last and servant of all.”
Let us teach our children to be like angels, so that in turn we can learn from them how to welcome Jesus. (Fr. Stephen Yim)