(For the audio version of this blog, please visit: http://brothersinchristcmf.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Mass-Blog-for-the-28th-Sunday-in-Ordinary-time-2021.mp3)
As someone who has never served in the armed forces, or as any kind of first-responder for that matter, I always feel an obligation to thank such people for their service—especially in this age when populations are threatened by terrorism on a global scale and cries of “defund the police” here at home. Service can be a thankless and endless job.
So why would someone deciding what to do with their life choose such an occupation? People of faith might cite the inspiration of St. Michael, to whom we pray “be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.” Others may reference the faith-filled wisdom of the Centurion who impressed Jesus by leavening his faith with the humility of asking our Lord to cure this soldier’s servant—from a distance. The Centurion didn’t feel worthy to be in Jesus’ presence while he did it. Jesus topped this man’s chain of command—and this commander trusted the Master to work miracles through it (LUKE 7:8):
“For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
First-responders often base their capabilities on, and owe their lives to, the wisdom of their chain of command. For those who cite faith as their source of strength, many can relate to Sunday’s first reading from the book of wisdom (Wis 7:7-11):
I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. Beyond health and comeliness I loved her, and I chose to have her rather than the light, because the splendor of her never yields to sleep.
And often, neither do cops, doctors, nurses or soldiers. They put themselves out in the open when danger surrounds them. Many find their strength in the belief that they are conspicuous to God, and therefore devote themselves to acts they trust will please their Commander. Sunday’s second reading from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews supports such a belief (Heb 4:12-13):
No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.
But too often the people first responders protect forget that they are also accountable for a life of service. As Jesus tells the rich man in Sunday’s gospel reading from Mark (Mk 10:17-30), when he asks the Master for the keys to heaven’s door, obedience to earthly laws is just one of them. We need to get to the point where laws governing misbehavior become irrelevant. That requires a willingness to see the temporary comforts and challenges of this life as the means of God’s answer to our prayers for eternal wisdom. Jesus concludes:
“Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.”
Before that age dawns on us, we should first respond.