The book of Wisdom from where the first reading (Ch 2:12, 17-20) comes, is from the first section of the book (chapters 1-5) which illustrates the attitude that others might well have towards the believing Jews, who think themselves superior. The whole book seems to have been written originally in Greek and probably in Egypt where there was a ‘colony’ of Jews; it probably dates from the first century BC. The reading suggests that the way of the ‘godless’ may be troublesome to the Jews; but these were not really godless in the sense of being wicked people, many of them had good standards of behaviour both private and public, and what they wanted out of life was a pleasant and satisfying life for themselves and for others. The Jews in Israel at the time of Jesus did not accept this Book as part of their Scriptures and even now it is Catholics, not the Protestants, who have this book in their Bible. However, the writer is picking up on a theme in Isaiah and elsewhere, that those who are righteous will be opposed by others who will treat them badly and even condemn them to death (as we saw in the suffering servant song in last week’s reading from Isaiah). The responsorial psalm is the congregation’s response to the reading and is very aptly chosen.
The reading from James (3:16-4:3) comes across like preaching in the early church and has the same pattern and general sense as Paul’s letter to the Galatians (5:19-23) namely, a longish list of sins then “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness…” where James has “But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy…” But it is the list of evils and sins that makes us wonder at the state of the early followers of the Way of Jesus – it seems that they were not all the saintly enthusiasts we might imagine.
The gospel reading (Mark 9:30-37.) takes us further into the second half of the Gospel the beginning of which we had last week. The plot is moving now towards the fulfillment and completion of Jesus’ life on earth. We read a second prediction of Jesus’ passion and resurrection; it is what might be expected by those who have grasped the message of the first reading; so Jesus is now worried about too much public exposure and especially about the use of the word Christ which has for most of his contemporaries the implication of some grand almost secular political power on the side of the Jews. We see this as we read of the disciples, upon hearing the prediction, arguing about who will share positions of power in the coming kingdom. Again and again Mark indicates that the disciples just don’t understand what Jesus is talking about. But the message of Jesus is not to be understood so much as to be lived out in our attitude to others different from ourselves “whoever wants to be first must be last.”