TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2018)
Wisdom 2:12, 17-20
Those listening to the proclamation of today’s gospel will easily recall that Jesus is giving it the ‘old college try,’ teaching his disciples for a second time that the “Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” It was less than a chapter ago in Mark’s gospel that Jesus tried to instill this “suffering” corrective to the disciples’ understanding of Jesus’ Messiahship. Peter’s reluctance to understand Jesus’ teaching indicated that the bulk of the disciples missed the point of what Jesus was trying to share with them. In spite of Jesus’ best effort in today’s gospel, He won’t be any more successful this weekend in changing the disciples’ view of the kind of Messiah Jesus was called to be, as their arguing among themselves clearly demonstrates.
There would be no need to be discussing among themselves “who was the greatest” if the disciples had not exclusively attached themselves to the notion of a Messiah who would establish an earthly kingdom. They no doubt all, like Peter, expected Jesus to be an all-powerful Messiah, a Son of Man so strong and invulnerable that He would establish a worldly kingdom in need of lieutenants who would be cloaked with a similar power. One can almost imagine the disciples, like petulant children, arguing about who Jesus likes best, hoping that they will be picked for the important positions. Sadly, the gospel writer Mark is right when he says that the disciples, once again, “did not understand” what Jesus was saying, and “they were afraid to question him.”
Jesus knew, even if the time was not now, that the disciples would one day have to grasp the connection between suffering and following in His footsteps. Indeed, most of the disciples would give profound witness to the acceptance of suffering and death in their lives, surrendering their lives in martyrdom for their faith. So Jesus shifts gears a bit, addressing the inordinate desire for power and importance evidenced in the disciples’ arguing. His teaching that anyone who “wishes to be first, shall be the last of all and the servant of all,” surely caused the disciples to, once again, scratch their heads and wonder what He was talking about.
Being the consummate teacher, Jesus takes a little child and, embracing him, puts him in the midst of the disciples as a sign and symbol of who is truly important. Like the child in front of them, the disciples were not chosen because they were important. Most were ordinary fishermen, with no particular pedigree which made them deserving of Jesus’ attention. Jesus loved all of them equally, and His hopes were that His love and guidance would compel the disciples to continue His work of establishing a kingdom in this world, a kingdom not of power, but rather a kingdom of love, and compassion, and peace, and justice. The mission of the disciples was not so much to perform mighty works, as it was to receive the little ones, the needy, the forgotten, the rejected, and those standing on the fringes of society. Their mission was to share the love that had been lavished on them with those that the world oftentimes overlooks.
In her commentary on our gospel passage, Sr. Mary McGlone states: “When Jesus picked up the child, he was performing a living parable, teaching that loving someone is the greatest service you can do them; everything else flows from that and nothing else is very valuable without it. Loving is also the greatest service we can do for the entire world because the more people are loved, the less they need to compete and use violence to make their mark.”
The arguing of the disciples is, sadly, all too familiar. Whether it’s the world or our Church, too often we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to “get ahead,” trying to seize power and control. Like the disciples we desire to be important, failing to recognize that being important in the kingdom that truly matters is about “being last of all and the servant of all.” Love is more powerful than violence. With love there is no need to dominate and control. It was love that would get Jesus through His betrayal, denial, suffering, and His crucifixion. It is our love of God and neighbor which will likewise see us through our own hardships and difficulties.
Terrence Klein, S.J., has stated that “Jesus was not abused as a child. Nor did he ever surrender the innocence of childhood. Even as a man, he came among us as the pure, beating heart of God’s love, a love surrendered into our hands. He did this because he was both the origin and the fullness of love, and he trusted that the love of his Father would prevail.” In a gospel where the word “love” is never mentioned, we are reminded that the Gospel is always about love. We are called to fashion our lives after that of Jesus, who is love. We are called to be the little child embraced by a loving Lord, whose sole purpose is to love as unconditionally as God has loved us, in order that our homes, our neighborhoods, our churches, and our world will be made better places where the Kingdom of God flourishes.