September 20: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
Readings: Wisdom 2:12, 17-20; James 3:16-4:3; Mark 9:30-37
Last Sunday readings focused our attention on the mystery of the Cross in order to understand who Jesus is. In the Gospel of last Sunday, the disciples misunderstood the identity of Jesus and so Jesus took the opportunity to tell them his true identity by foretelling his suffering, death and resurrection. This Sunday, Mark in the Gospel takes us back to the same theme of the Cross, but this time, in terms of discipleship that implies powerlessness and vulnerability. That is the best way to understand our discipleship. Rather than giving us any privileged positions, discipleship renders us powerless and vulnerable in the perspective of the cross. The Gospel is on the second prediction of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. Jesus was teaching the disciples and telling them, “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.” But all that went over their heads. They did not understand, and Mark adds, “they were afraid to question him.” Why did they fail to understand? Mark reveals that “They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.” Aha! They still see Jesus as a conquering Messiah who liberates Israel and establishes an earthly kingdom. In that sense, they were discussing about who would be the Vice President in that kingdom; power positions. Jesus takes the opportunity to teach them that he is a "Serving Messiah". Following Jesus is about serving others rather than about power positions. If we wish to be first, we must be prepared to be last; if we wish to be great, we must be prepared to be like little children; if we want to be leaders, we must be prepared to be servants of all. Jesus used the example of little children because during his time children were symbols of “non-persons”, without any power and often unprotected. Children were therefore symbols of powerlessness and vulnerability. Jesus reminds us today that rather than being concerned about positions of power in the Church, we should be more concerned about those without power and the most vulnerable in our midst.
I recently heard a story told by a parishioner. A young boy whom she knows once asked how one becomes a Pope in the Catholic Church. So he was told that first one has to become a priest first. The boy would not take any of that. He said no I would like to be a Pope! Not only do we want to have the top position but we are even capable of destroying others psychologically in order to make sure we get to the top. As in today’s Christian community, ambition and jealousy were also among the close followers of Christ, making it difficult to understand Jesus’ call to a life of service and suffering. Jesus offers a clear catechesis on Christian leadership as humble service. “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all”. As Christians, we are called to a humble service that involves a spirituality of service; a spirituality of powerlessness and vulnerability. So what message do we take home? 1) Our discipleship, our call to follow Christ the "Serving Messiah" is a call to powerlessness and vulnerability and not to a position of power and authority; 2) We are called to leadership of humble service that involves the possibility of the cross not comfort; 3) We must be very weary when discussions in the Church are about positions rather than caring for those without power and the most vulnerable.
©2009 John M. Mbinda