Sir 5:1-8; Ps 1:1-4,6; Mk 9:41-50: Our responsorial psalm, the first psalm, is not just numerically first. It is first because it can be seen to introduce the collective wisdom of the entire Book of Psalms. Every psalm thereafter is about the double-edged sword that is the word of the psalm. The Word of the LORD in this book from the wisdom literature reveals how sharp is the challenge we encounter when we follow not the counsel of the wicked. King David and all the saints of old challenge us to choose between wisdom and foolishness. We are not to walk in the way of sinners. We have no time to waste in the company of the insolent, lingering with those who have no time for wisdom. Indeed, we spend our days delighting in the law of the LORD, and we enjoy meditating on the law day and night. Such a constant preoccupation is like being planted by running water where we are constantly refreshed and nourished. Such a constant encounter with the Word of God enables us to yield fruit in due season, and our leaves never fade. Indeed, whatever we do or don’t do reveals the presence of the Kingdom of God. Can there be any greater wisdom? The ultimate fool is like chaff, which the wind drives away; he is not connected to the wisdom of the ages. The LORD watches over the way of the just, those who are planted near running water, those who cherish the wisdom from on high. However, the ways of the wicked amount to nothing. Indeed, the way of foolishness, the way of the wicked vanishes. The wisdom of God continues to challenge us in the first reading—the only foolishness in life is to delay conversion. The Incarnate Wisdom of God reveals how those who follow him will become the salt of the earth. It is this salt that brings out the flavor of human dignity in the ordinary experience of daily life.
We know neither the day nor the hour when the LORD God will snatch us out of this world. This is a good thing. It helps us to be ready, every day and every hour. Jesus Ben Sirach takes this wisdom even further. He warns us not to rely on our wealth or power. We cannot rely even on our strength in following the desires of our hearts. Such pride will demand an exacting punishment; there are consequences to our behavior. The Most High knows when it is best to teach us through our suffering things we can’t learn any other way. Sometimes suffering is the consequence of our sinful desires and decisions, and sometimes suffering is given so that we might learn how to trust in the Healing Lord. We are never to be overconfident, adding sin to sin. Though the LORD’s mercy is great, it is also severe. It is painful to learn from our sin, but it is even more painful to never learn from our sins. Indeed, the wrath of God is a sign of his infinite love. His wrath is perfect just like his hate. The LORD hates sin and loves sinners. His wrath will blaze up so that we learn what we have yet to learn: the LORD’s ways are not our ways. The LORD is God and there is no other. The suddenness of the LORD’s wrath is the gift of his love that snatches us from our sloth and ascidia. Just because the LORD seems to delay his wrath, we are not to delay our conversion. Finally, we are not to be deceived by the wrath. The Father does not despise us sinners. Rather, the Father does despise our sins. It is this fire that purifies and teaches us, not to be afraid of God, but to live in the fear of the LORD.
The Lord Jesus promises a reward for anyone who treats his disciples with kindness and respect. These generous people do not have to be of our company; all they have to do is show us love. Such actions bear a blessing even for unbelievers. The Lord Jesus provides further instruction for his disciples; we are taught today how to become the salt of the earth. These four general moral norms are an echo of earlier Jewish wisdom teaching specifically about sexual ethics. The command about saving the little ones from sin is a prohibition against child abuse. The command about our hands is a prohibition against masturbation. The command about our feet has to do with avoiding the sin of adultery. The command about our eyes has to do with avoiding the lust of the eyes that allows us to use another person as a sex object for our fantasies. Christ, the Divine Teacher summons us to prefer being crippled in this world rather than being thrown whole into Gehenna, “where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” At the time of Jesus’ teaching, salt was used to preserve food, for adding to sacrifices upon the altar of the LORD, and for bringing out the flavor of the food we consume. Salt does not chemically lose its flavor, but it does become unclean and useless if it is contaminated by dust, dirt, and excrement from domestic vermin. If we keep salt in our hearts we will preserve, flavor, and sacrifice life, indeed, we will reveal the coming Kingdom that already abides within our hearts.