(For the audio version of this blog, please visit: https://brothersinchristcmf.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Mass-Blog-for-the-26th-Sunday-in-Ordinary-time-2023.mp3)
“Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to man. For this he was chained to a rock and tortured for eternity.”
This quote opens the movie “Oppenheimer.” It offers a fitting parable about humanity’s tendency to lust after the powers of mythological Greek gods rather than THE power of the true, one and only God whose very essence is love. According to legend, the god Zeus jealously and selfishly condemned Prometheus for elevating humanity to a godly level by giving us control of fire—and therefore, a semblance of independence.
The truth is that even with the free will our God of love grants us, we tend to be more attracted to the satanic selfishness of Zeus and Narcissus which, while advancing us two steps forward in the ways of our world, always sets us three steps further back from Heaven. Thank God (ours) that the disciples had Jesus to save them (and us) from this doomed world’s gravitational forces.
Scripture teaches us that some of Jesus’ disciples lusted for the power they witnessed in their Master’s presence. Like Prometheus, they didn’t realize what harnessing that power would mean for them. Their Master taught them the reality of his great power–the reality of a King who rode into his kingdom on an ass to bravely suffer and die for humanity’s salvation. (MARK 11).
Next in Mark’s gospel, Jesus uses nature–a fig tree—to teach his followers the difference between humility and uselessness. The fig tree to which Jesus goes to feed his bodily hunger turns out to be all show, with its lush growth of leaves. It doesn’t offer any fruit to nourish others. Jesus meets that waste of God’s power with a curse that withers it—as a warning to others.
Oppenheimer is a similar cautionary tale of misapplied power; power too often used for fruitless vanity and self-centered security. The movie ends as it began, with a meeting between the student, “Oppie,” and physics master, Albert Einstein. At the beginning of the movie, the Master’s hat blows off his head. At the end–once we’ve seen where Oppenheimer’s search for power advanced us (two steps forward and three steps back), we see the student pick up his master’s “crown” and return it to him–the one who seemed to better understand the consequences of the power humanity harnessed. (History tells us that upon hearing the news of the Hiroshima bombing his work inspired, Einstein said “Woe is me.”)
It’s not fair! Why must we suffer so for our mistakes? This Sunday’s first reading from the prophet Ezekiel (Ez 18:25-28) sounds like our God answering Prometheus—whom the Greeks considered the god of unintended consequences.
“Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?” God asks through the prophet. “When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die. But if he turns from the wickedness he has committed, and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life.”
Through Sunday’s second reading (Phil 2:1-11), Paul also seems to offer advice to the Prometheus in us:
Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others. Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
What a lesson for this troubled world’s leaders who, in their grasping for anything to help them gain ground, only bury themselves deeper into it. In Sunday’s gospel (Mt 21:28-32), Jesus tells them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.”
Our God offers the wisdom to learn from our mistakes, and thus generate the power to propel us toward that indestructible existence of His.