A reading from the Book of Wisdom 2:12, 17-20

A reading from the Letter of Saint James 3:16-43

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 9:30-37

Jesus was counter-cultural, and so was his call to discipleship. That is even more so in this day and age. The readings for this Sunday confront us and give us an opportunity to examine our consciences, as it were, to see just how authentic our response to that call has been. The readings will 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 Jesus’ call to discipleship? Think for a moment about what values are put before children as an incentive to pursue excellence in their studies. They are 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 then 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 badly enough. It is all part of 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 the incentives in life? It’s 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 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 to be a confrontation of those who are in power. They have heard that the Just One relies on God who is his vindicator. The powerful want to take the Just One 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. You remember Jesus’ response to Peter. This week, the disciples hear the dire news that shocks them into silence. They were afraid to question him about what they did not understand.

Keep 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 confirm for the disciples that the long-awaited Messiah was here. They had a clear and vivid picture of what the Messiah would be like, what he would accomplish and, more importantly, where they would figure in his reign.

Have you ever had the experience of not wanting to know something and so you avoid access to the information? We joke about putting our heads in the sand, imitating the ostrich. That is what 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.

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 as they are 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. That is why the pope is called the servant of the servants of God. So, the higher one climbs in the hierarchy of the church, the more obligations of service that one incurs. And nothing is said about rewards. This has been a constant them of Pope Francis. He has said I do not serve over you, but among you. The reform of the church he urges is a poorer church serving the needs of the poor. You know well that not everyone welcomes that message.

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 you are. 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 the church. The parishioners’ experience ought to be one of having their Priesthood of 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 does not 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 a ministry. 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 space to accommodate the specific needs of the disabled so that they can be in the midst of the Assembly, in the midst of their families and friends. None ought to be made to feel embarrassed by his/her disability. Even someone with Tourette’s syndrome or any other embarrassing disability 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 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 all were represented the parish would not be reflective of the Body of Christ. Our parishes ought to welcome that diversity and recognize it as the blessing that it is.

Pope Francis will be in our country as we celebrate this Sunday. It will be interesting to see how his messages to the United Nations and to the Congress of the United States are received. The pope is urging people to take in a refugee family. The Vatican is taking in two families. How does that resonate with some of the stands taken in this country regarding the immigration question? As I write this, it has been announced that Francis has ordered a simplification of the annulment process and a reduction of the costs attached. He has already said that the divorced-and-remarried should not be treated as excommunicated.   Not a few still grumble when Pope Francis’s statement regarding gays is quoted. The hymn sang: All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place. Are they? By you? By me? We must our response in the context of Jesus’ call to discipleship.

What practical impact will Francis’s Year of Mercy have in the church in the United States? We all should be praying about and for this.

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 pray 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 on your way to the Table, 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.



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