18 PENTECOST, PROPER XX - B - 18 MARK 9. 30-37
The ninth chapter of Mark begins with the Transfiguration and that glorious and mystifying scene ends with Jesus’ having commanded those who witnessed it, Peter, James, and John, not to tell anyone what they had seen or heard until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.
In last week’s gospel, Jesus announced his first prediction of His death and resurrection following his descent from the mountain. Jesus rebuked Peter for objecting to the very idea. Perhaps, we might say, that in light of what Peter had seen and heard atop the holy mountain his objection was reasonable.
However, Jesus did not see it that way. In today’s gospel, Jesus makes his second prediction of his Passion. The disciples play deaf and dumb asking no questions and making no comments, not even Peter. Mark would have us believe that they did hear Jesus but were afraid to ask. They remained silent for they failed to understand what he was implying and what it might mean for them.
Jesus is not speaking in parables here. He is making it quite clear for a second time. The Son of Man is to be killed and will rise again. The problem seems to be, as I said in last week’s homily, that they were clinging tightly to the old concept of Messiah and the earthly kingdom he would bring into being.
Granted not every Jew in the time of Jesus was looking for a messiah, but those that did, did not envision one whom God would send would end up suffering and dying on a cross. Their total misunderstanding, and their clinging to the old concept is illustrated in their arguing over who will be the greatest in the kingdom Jesus will usher in.
They do not understand what it means to be a disciple. The disciples were seeking great things for themselves, earthly things. They had yet to learn by what why Christ would come into his kingdom and that Christian greatness, if you will, was to consist in renunciation of all that the world values and in the service of those whom the world rates of least account.
Thus, Jesus’ teaching, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” He was teaching his disciples that true greatness lies in humility and the willingness to serve others. He incarnates his teaching by taking the child and placing it in their midst.
Jesus uses a child to jog them out of their up side down thinking. Children in the ancient world had no prestige or status. In his reception of the child, Jesus models the openness, vulnerability and humility to which we are invited if we choose to follow him.
Today’s gospel begs the question: Where do we arrive at our concepts of God and His kingdom? Do we take other people’s word for whom and what God is all about? Or are we clinging to our own concept of God based on what we want God to be? When God is trying to tell us something how good are we at listening?
Over the years, I have heard many a comment along the lines of “I have never heard God speak to me. I have prayed for answers and asked for a sign but have never received either. ” To which I have always responded, how do you know?
The truth is God speaks to each of us in different ways. Sometimes he uses other people to carry his message. Most often, he speaks to us through Holy Scripture.
Think about it. Is there something in scripture you have read in the Daily Office, or heard read in one of the Sunday readings that jumped out at you? Is there something going on around you, in your family life or in the work place through which God is speaking to you, and if so, are you open to it?
A “sign” that the answer still maybe “no” is if, like the disciples, we are still concerned with status, that is, what’s in it for me. If we think, and sadly, there are those who think like this, that in our following Jesus we will somehow enhance our own prestige, our sense of self-worth, or that the gospel exists to make us feel good about ourselves, then we are unlikely to hear what God is actually saying for we are focused on self.
When we are full of self there is no room for God. We need to take seriously James’ warning in today’s Epistle, “for where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.”
Too often, the problem lies in our trying to create God in our image rather than accepting the fact that we have been created in His - and for a purpose - to worship and love him and demonstrate our love for him by serving others in his name.
The disciples may not have been able to see clearly, what Jesus was saying for they were on the other side of the cross. Granted, the cross turns up side down everything the disciples had imagined. The cross turns up side down the way people think, including Christians, or at least it should.
However, we are on this side of the cross. We are called to see God in Christ and his Passion with child-like eyes, to see beyond the cross, to see in the cross a path to new life, to see in servant hood not a denying of personhood but an enhancement of life.
What’s in it for us is to be filled with God’s love and to one day share in the glory of his Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
The glory of Christ that was manifested on the holy mountain was but a foreshadowing of the glory that will one day belong to all who choose to follow him by walking the way of the cross, and by denying self in order to serve others in His name, especially those whom the world deems of least account.
“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” To be a servant of the Servant of God is our divine vocation. No greater honor can be bestowed on us in this life than to be called a Christian and to be recognized as such in the eyes of the world. AMEN+