Mark doesn’t give the disciples much of a break does he? Today’s
gospel is a good example. Jesus has just taught them about his
up-coming suffering, death and resurrection. Mark tells us the
disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was saying to them. They seem
to want to change the subject – as we most likely would do.
After their arrival in Capernaum. Jesus asks what they were
"arguing about on the way." They are reduced to silence. Their
crassness and ambition are exposed as they admit to arguing about
who was the greatest. The disciples may not have understood what
Jesus meant about his rejection, suffering and death. But instead of
discussing what that and his "rising from the dead" might mean, or
what they would do if Jesus were treated as he predicted – they talk
about their future prospects. Could they have been that insensitive
about what he had just taught them? They were on the road following
him and he was going to suffering and death. What did they think was
going to happen to them, his followers? Surely not glory and seats
Mark doesn’t smooth out the rough edges of the disciples. He just
presents them as they were – people of their time. They, with their
co-religionists, were hoping for the arrival of the Messiah to
overthrow their enemies and lead Israel to greatness. Last week we
heard Peter proclaim Jesus as the Christ (8:27–35). The disciples
following Jesus to Jerusalem believed they were walking side by side
with the Messiah. They were right; but they were wrong about the
kind of Messiah Jesus was. They saw glory up ahead of them and they
were arguing about the place settings for their thrones. They needed
to be taught that the power Jesus will inaugurate as Messiah will
take the shape of service. God’s love for us will be shown in power
– but a power redefined as service to the least.
I wonder if the leaders of the early church, for whom Mark wrote,
were already claiming rank and privilege? He may have written his
gospel to remind them what Jesus taught about their responsibility:
they were to be "the least of all and the servant of all." That’s a
sobering reminder, especially these days with clergy scandal
ignored, or covered up, by some of the church’s hierarchy. It also
addresses other people in charge: diocesan officials, heads of
liturgy committees, parish councils, financial administrators,
teachers, etc. Power easily goes to our heads. We need regular
reminders that we are servants, whether we wear pectoral crosses,
clerical collars, business suits, have ecclesial titles on our
doors, or stand in front of a class of unformed minds.
When you come right down to it, we may seem to have power – but
we really aren’t in control, no matter what our rank or privileged
position. It doesn’t take long for us to realize that our best-made
plans don’t always work out. The power to plan and design our
futures is very tenuous indeed. The disciples seeking position of
authority and recognition will soon be frustrated in those plans.
Jesus is instructing them that they need to shift their attention
elsewhere, to an investment in the future that will not fail them.
They need to follow their master and do as he did, use any authority
they might receive in service to others.
Who is the "greatest?" If the disciples are to gain lasting
dignity they must be willing to be a servant "to all." And more. The
disciples must receive the child in Jesus’ name. Children in Jesus’
time had no rank, no rights and no privileges. They were property of
their fathers and so were exceedingly vulnerable. The disciple is to
be just like that, Jesus says, "welcome the child" into their own
lives – accept being vulnerable and therefore dependent on God.
Still more – instead of seeking out and serving the high-placed
and important in society and church, the disciple is to seek out the
company of the poor and no-accounts of the world, the insignificant
– the "children." What we know from other teachings of Jesus is that
in "the least" we will discover Christ himself. As we celebrate the
"true presence" of Jesus in today’s Eucharist, we might consider
where in the world we also discover his true presence. We could
begin looking in the direction he points today – to the least.
"Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me."
The gospel can be so contradictory; so opposite to our ideals and
values; so impractical. For example, many airlines allow a person to
go online 24 hours before the scheduled departure of a flight to
choose seats. So, when I have a flight reservation that’s what I do.
As soon as the 24 hour limit comes I quickly go to the airline’s
webpage and choose the best seats I can. "First come, first served."
It’s an axiom our world lives by. Heaven help the person who jumps
ahead of others on a supermarket line, at a buffet, or a movie line.
"First come, first served!" we will shout.
But in God’s kingdom, Jesus tells us to make a deliberate choice
to serve others and renounce any thoughts of being first on line.
This doesn’t make sense if we merely rely on our own logic. It’s
that contrary gospel! Jesus isn’t inviting us into a logic
classroom; but into a school for discipleship. He urges us to
believe and accept the mystery of God’s reign, manifested in all its
fullness in Christ. After all, in Jesus that’s exactly what God did
– become the servant, willing to leave behind all divine splendor
and take up the limitations of our human condition, all the way to
death on the cross.
James gives us a vivid description of our human condition and our
evil tendencies in our second reading. Considering his description
of our human state, it’s no wonder we have such a difficult time
with Jesus’ teaching about accepting the child into our lives. But
there is no teaching without the grace to accept the teaching – as
impossible as the instruction may seem.
Sometimes even a brief phrase in the Scriptures will give hope
and suggest the presence of God’s grace. Today the phrase that
speaks to me appears in the opening verse, "Jesus and his disciples
left from there and began a journey ...."
If we feel stuck in a place, attitude or spiritual disposition,
we are reminded that, with Jesus, we can leave that place of "stuck-ness."
And go where? We can go in the direction of becoming fuller, more
complete disciples. That is the phrase that speaks to me today,
Jesus and his disciples – "began a journey." We’re not there yet,
not the perfect disciples who have left everything and followed
Jesus; not the docile and self-sacrificing ones who have left behind
prestige and seek to serve the least.
Rather than being disheartened at our incompleteness, we can take
heart. We may not be "there" yet, but we are in the process of
becoming the disciples Jesus has called us to be. We have begun our
journey and we are not struggling to get there on our own because,
as Mark reminds us, we have Jesus with us as we travel – on "the
journey." This Eucharist today is another moment on our journey
towards discipleship. Here we hear a grace-filled word and receive a
meal that helps us take the next steps towards being the disciples
Jesus has in mind, those who, "shall be the least of all and the
servant of all."
for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
hear my prayer; hearken to the words of my mouth.
At the last Wake County book sale, one of the books I picked up
was the final book of a trilogy, Engaging the Powers
(Fortress, 1992), by Walter Wink. It is an absolute must-read for
anyone wishing to understand the domination system, what the Bible
calls "principalities and powers."
Wink also devotes a chapter to the power of intercessory prayer.
He states, "The message is clear: history belongs to the
intercessors, who believe the future into being. .
.This is the politics of hope. . .Even a small number of people,
firmly committed to the new inevitability on which they have fixed
their imaginations, can decisively affect the shape the future
takes. These shapers of the future are the intercessors, who call
out of the future the longed-for new present. In the New Testament,
the name and texture and aura of that future is God’s
domination-free order, the reign of God" (299). Wink goes on to say
that we are not demanding enough in our prayer, that "Biblical
prayer is impertinent, persistent, shameless, indecorous. It is more
like haggling in an oriental bazaar. . ." He describes Abraham
haggling with God to save Sodom in Genesis 18. Even the Lord’s
Prayer is full of commands to God. He writes, "We are required by
God to haggle with God for the sake of the sick, the obsessed, the
weak, and to conform our lives to our intercessions."
Wink goes on to say that "our task in praying is precisely that
of giving speech to the Spirit’s groanings within us. But we must
not try to bear the sufferings of the creation ourselves. . .We
learn to pray by stopping the attempt and simply listening to
the prayer already being prayed in us. . .Our task is simply to
bring the Spirit’s utterances to language, to consciousness, to
awareness." I find myself thinking about my own prayer life-- How
often have my prayers been indifferent, polite monologues? When have
my prayers been the most effective? Could I focus more on the way of
praying that Wink suggests?
Once a month, a group of parishioners, who are committed to acts
of charity and social justice on behalf of the poor, will meet to
storm Heaven with intercessory prayer and to support each other. If
you would like to join these pray-ers, contact
Director of Social
Holy Name of Jesus
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for
persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted
in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
Taking a child, he placed it in their midst,
putting his arm around it, he said to them,
"Whoever receives one child such as this in my name,
As we celebrate the "true presence" of Jesus in today’s
Eucharist, we might consider where in the world we also discover his
true presence. We could begin looking in the direction he points
today, to the least. "Whoever receives one child such as this in my
name, receives me."
So we ask ourselves:
- Can I "receive" and accept the child within myself – the
vulnerable and scared little one whom God has already accepted?
- What can I do or say to protect the children in my church,
community or world?
POSTCARDS TO DEATH
"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death
penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in
whatever form it is carried out." ---Pope Francis
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison
system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and
addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them
to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them
you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith
Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might
consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Terry L. Robinson #0349019 (On death row since 4/10/00)
- Mark L. Squires #0688223 (5/17/00)
- Christina Walters #0626944 (7/6/00)
----Central Prison 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic position on the death
penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:
Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the
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