Wisdom 2:12, 17-20

James 3:16-43

Mark 9:30-37

Sometimes we forget how counter-cultural the call to discipleship is.  This Sunday’s readings will confront us and give us an opportunity to examine our consciences, as it were, to see just how authentic our response to that call is.  The readings will also give those on their journey toward Baptism and their commitment to discipleship the chance to ask themselves if what Jesus holds up as the model of discipleship is a life that they want to embrace.

What is so counter-cultural about being Jesus’ disciple?  Think for a moment about what we put before children as an incentive to pursue excellence in their studies.  Aren’t they challenged to strive to be the best in their class so that they will be able to go to the best schools and upon graduation secure the best jobs in firms so that they can climb the corporate ladder and, arriving at the top, be Number One again?  Of course there will also be ample financial remunerations that will allow them to live in splendid mansions, to drive the finest cars, to have servants to tend to their every need, and on and on, to have the best that this world has to offer.  Why, they could even be president of the United States if they want it bad enough.  Don’t we call all that realizing the American Dream?

Bring those goals to Jesus.  Dare to ask what he would say about them.  You might be startled at what you find – especially if position, power, and pelf are motivating factors in your life.  Are those the carrots dangling before you as incentives in life?  It’s quite clear in this weeks readings that those are not what Jesus promises those who would be his disciples.  None of them was a goal he ever pursued.  Only the will of the Father urged him on.

The first reading from the Book of Wisdom is used in conjunction with the Passion Narrative during Holy Week.  It is easy for us to hear the reading and know that the Just One rejected by the wicked is Jesus.  He is rejected precisely because his values and what he preaches are a reproach to the evildoers.  Translate that as a confrontation of those who are in power.  They have heard that the Just One relies on God who is his vindicator.  They want to take him at his word and see whether or not that vindication will come about.  Will God take care of him even if they impose a terrible death on him?

It is reference to that terrible death that opens the gospel.  The Son of Man is to be handed over to people and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise. This is Jesus’ second prediction of his destruction.  Last week, Peter protested the Master’s impending doom.  And you remember Jesus’ response to Peter.  This week, the disciples hear the dire news and are shocked into silence.  They were afraid to question him about what they did not understand.  Bear in mind that there have been some rather extraordinary events to which the disciples have been witness.  It wasn’t that long ago that they marveled that even the wind and the waves obey him.  Remember the feeding of the five thousand?  That was impressive, too, and seemed to indicate that the long awaited Messiah was here.  They had a clear and vivid picture of what the Messiah would be like and what he would accomplish and, more importantly, where they would figure in his reign.

Have you ever noticed that when you don’t want to know something you avoid accessing the unwanted information?  We joke about putting our heads in the sand, imitating the ostrich.  I don’t know if the ostrich does that or not.  But we do when we flee from the truth.  The disciples were afraid to question Jesus not because he would be harsh in answering their question but because they did not want to know the veracity of what they suspected in their minds.  They did not want their dreams dashed on the shoals like the waves in a storm.

But what follows is curious.  It seems that while the disciples did not dare question Jesus about his being killed they were not reluctant to discuss his successor.  When Jesus is killed who will be the next to be in command?  That is the argument that occupies them on their way back home.  Good teacher that he is, when they arrive at the house in Capernaum, Jesus confronts the issue.  What were you arguing about on the way? This time they are not so much afraid but ashamed to answer.  Even they seem to be aware of how far such an argument takes them from the Master’s teaching.

Are you prepared to hear what Jesus says to the Twelve and through them to us?  Those who wish to be first shall be the last of all and the servant of all. Theoretically that is why the pope is called the servant of the servants of God. In other words, the higher one climbs in the hierarchy of the church the more obligations of service that one incurs.  And nothing is said about rewards.

Again, good teacher that he is, Jesus uses an example to flesh out his imagery.  We can get all dewy-eyed at the thought of the child placed in the midst of the Apostles.  We cherish children and see the hope for our future in them.  That was not so in Jesus’ time.  Children had no rights.  They had no legal status and could do little on their own.  They were the epitome of vulnerable.  Make no mistake about it.  If you are called to discipleship you are called to service, not position, not power, not wealth.  In fact each of the three will thwart effective discipleship.

Who has primacy in terms of importance in the community?  The child.  After all, if you receive one child such as this in my name, you receive me; and if you receive me, you receive not me but the One who sent me.   Be careful who dazzles you.  Be careful over whom you fawn.  That may be the biggest indicator of how far you are from being the disciple Jesus has in mind – or how close.  The same can be said for what you aspire to and why.

All of this says a lot about what our parishes should be like and what people, especially the least significant people, should experience as they enter there.  First of all, the parishioners’ experience ought to be one of having their priesthood as the baptized empowered.  Each of the baptized, from the youngest to the eldest, from the strongest to the most infirm, from the wealthiest to the poorest has a capacity for ministry.  That doesn’t mean all have the same ministry.  It means each has a ministry in keeping with the God-given gifts and talents that one has for ministering.  Not all should be lectors.  Not all should be singers.  Not all should be greeters or ushers or extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist.  But in every parish there are enough with those various talents to fill those various ministries so that all who come among them can be ministered to.

In the midst of the assembly there ought to be seating to accommodate the specific needs of the disabled so that they can be seated in the midst of the assembly, in the midst of their families.  None ought to be made to feel embarrassed by his/her disability.  Even someone with Tourette’s syndrome or any other embarrassing disorder ought to feel loved and welcomed in the assembly.  And there ought to be a ministry for him or her to carry out.  Praying for the needs of the assembly is a ministry.

Years ago, Jean Vanier commented in effect that until our parishes evidenced all these types of people, the able and the disabled, the young and the old and the multi ethnic groups that make up society, until then the parish would not be reflective of the Body of Christ.  Our parishes out to welcome that diversity and recognize it as the blessing that it is.

That is a lot to digest, isn’t it?  If you ask who can do this, who can aspire to be nothing more than a foot-washer, the servant of all, I hope you realize that on one’s own, no one can.  But remember that this is a graced calling, something that begins with God and is empowered by the Spirit.  As you make your way in the Communion Procession toward the altar, keep reminding yourself that you can do all things in Christ who strengthens you.  And eating his Body and drinking his Blood will be all the food you need to strengthen you for the rest of the journey.



1 comment so far

  1. Katy Koenen on

    Thanks, as always, for bringing Catholicism back to me. I’ve largely become lax/lapsed because I so rarely come away from Mass feeling anything but excluded or pushed away from the Church by the homily. However, as you’ve managed to do ever since I was 14, you consistently take an approach to the readings that finds a way to meet me where I am, and for that I am grateful. With all of my ecclesiastical disappointments over the last several years, it’s a joy to find a point of connection once again.

    Katy K.

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