The wicked say: Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training. Let us see whether his words be true; let us find out what will happen to him. For if the just one be the son of God, God will defend him and deliver him from the hand of his foes. With revilement and torture let us put the just one to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him.(P) The word of the Lord.
O God, by your name save me, and by your might defend my cause. O God, hear my prayer; listen to the words of my mouth. (R)
For the haughty men have risen up against me, the ruthless seek my life; they set not God before their eyes. (R)
Behold, God is my helper; the Lord sustains my life. Freely will I offer you sacrifice; I will praise your name, O Lord, for its goodness. (R)
Beloved: where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, complaint, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.
Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.(P) The word of the Lord.
Jesus and his disciples began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it. He was teaching his 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 they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him.
They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all." Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, "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."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
Today's gospel text consists of three parts. In the first part, Mark reports Jesus' prediction of His own death and resurrection. According to Mark, Jesus predicted his suffering, death and resurrection three times, and each time His disciples in one way or another did not understand. And so Jesus gave them further teachings. The first prediction, which we read last week, was somewhere near Caesarea Philippi, a gentile region and a center of pagan worship from ancient times. Jesus had asked of the disciples their thoughts about His identity, and Peter declared that Jesus is "Christ", the Messiah. Then Jesus enjoined them not to tell anyone that He was the Christ.
There are at least three reasons for this:
First, it was not yet the time for Jesus' identity to be revealed. The fullness of time had simply not yet come. In the meantime, and perhaps, Jesus wanted to accomplish certain ministry objectives. He knew, either way, He would be killed. But this could only happen in due time.
Second, Jesus might well have been cautious, in order to avoid any misunderstanding of the title, "Messiah", as given to Him. For centuries, the Jewish people believed that the Messiah, a unique prophet like Moses would come and restore the fortunes of Israel, liberate the nation from foreign oppression, and extend His rule over Gentile nations, Deuteronomy (18:15). In other words, the Jews were expecting a "political", as opposed to a "spiritual" and "suffering" messiah just as spoken of by the prophet Isaiah or the author of the Book of Wisdom, in today's first reading, or other Old Testament prophets, Isaiah (52, 53); Wisdom (2:12, 17-20).
Third, Jesus knew that Peter and other disciples did not know everything about Him nor did they fully understand the nature of His messiahship. Peter's lack of understanding was obvious by the way He vehemently objected later on to Jesus' prediction that "the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed", Mark (8:31). Jesus responded to Peter, and even addressing him as "Satan", that he was thinking like human beings, not like God. That is to say, Peter was not considering the thoughts and plans of God, but rather the ideas of men. Then, Jesus further clarified His mission and reminded all followers of their call to radical discipleship by saying that they must deny themselves, take up the cross and follow Him, Mark (8:34).
In today's gospel text, Mark recounts Jesus's prediction of His own death and resurrection a second time, Mark (9:30-32). However, this time, two elements draw our attention:
This time, Jesus' warning to His disciples of His impending suffering and death is even more poignant. If we compare it with the previous prediction, we see that Jesus has added, "The Son of Man is to be handed over or delivered to men and they will kill Him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise", Mark (8:31); Mark (9:31). Here, Jesus knew quite clearly that His own disciple, Judas, would betray Him to be beaten and put to death.
Even then, the disciples did not yet understand what Jesus meant. By this time and to some extent, the disciples might have understood, the imminent and tragic end of Jesus' life but they probably did not yet grasp the "resurrection". That was too great for them, a wonder that they grasped only after the resurrection of Jesus. The interesting factor is that even if they did not understand, they were afraid to ask Jesus any further questions. It is a point for our reflection today.
In the second part of the gospel, Mark narrates Jesus' teaching on "The Way to greatness." Jesus had been expounding to the disciples the truths concerning His heavenly kingdom but they were still focused about the idea of an earthly kingdom and were ambitious to covet for themselves a privileged position in such kingdom. While Jesus was speaking to them about the painful, humiliating and shameful death in Jerusalem, they were thinking of recognition, honour and power. This was certainly not the first time the disciples entertained worldly and ambitious thoughts.
The apostle Peter, on one occasion, wanted to know from Jesus what his reward would be for having left all to follow Him, Mark (10:28). On another occasion, the apostles James and John asked Jesus to give them the special places of honour and power, when He entered His glory, Mark (10:35-37). However, in Matthew's account of this same incident, we notice that their mother Salome approached Jesus and made a special request on behalf of her sons, Matthew (20:20-22). It is evident from this, and other incidents in the lives of the disciples, that the ambition of being prominent in Jesus' Kingdom was high on their list of priorities.
Going back to today's gospel, after they arrived at Capernaum, Jesus asked them what they had been arguing about. But they had nothing to say; they were silent. It is another point for our reflection. Obviously, in their heart of hearts they knew that they were very immature to argue about such a matter in the first place. Hence, they were ashamed to tell Jesus what they were talking about. So long as they thought that Jesus was not listening to their conversation, it was fine, but to acknowledge their guilt in the presence of Jesus, was embarrassing. But Jesus wanted to deal with the issue immediately and very seriously. He sat down and called the Twelve to Him. It's important to note something here.
We know from the gospels that Jesus was called "Rabbi" by His followers, which literally means, "Teacher" or "Master." Hence, Jesus deliberately took up the position of a teacher and taught His disciples that, if they sought for greatness in His kingdom, they must find it, not by being the first but by being the last, not by being masters but by being servants of all. That is, Jesus wanted the disciples to know that they were essentially servants of God and His people. He neither condemned nor discouraged their ambition for greatness; but rather redefined and sublimated ambition. He substituted the ambition to rule others with the ambition to serve others; the ambition to have things done for oneself with the ambition to do things for others.
In the third part of the gospel, Mark reports of an act from Jesus: He put a child in the midst of His followers and said, "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." Jesus could have chosen to place in their midst any of His disciples or other adults as examples but He didn't. Rather, He chose a small child as a way of challenging and illuminating the disciples. Because little children cannot do anything for themselves; neither can they advance someone's career nor can they have any influence at all. In fact, children are helpless and desperately needy. They are dependent on the care they receive from others; they must have things done for them.
However, the child that Jesus spoke about is typical of the person who is socially, psychologically or economically disadvantaged such as the sick, poor, mentally and physically disabled; the one who has no influence and power; and who needs help or things to be done for him or her. Jesus said that receiving such weak, helpless, defenceless, and vulnerable people is equivalent to receiving Jesus and God the Father who sent Him.
What is the message for us?
When it comes to understanding and accepting Jesus' gospel message, we are just like Jesus' twelve disciples. Over and over again, we hear the gospel message of Jesus. We know the benefits of accepting it and the drastic consequences of rejecting it, yet many of us do not give full allegiance to it nor do we mould our lives according to it. We seek to understand only the parts of the gospel which we like or which suit us, and refuse to even understand the rest.
Today's gospel text teaches us that, to know our God and His will for us, not only do we need to read or hear the Word, but we also need to understand it and apply it to our lives. But trying to understand the Bible can sometimes be a difficult task though, with God's help, it is possible. Hence, unlike the disciples, we should never be afraid to ask God for clarification. Without doubting, we must ask God to make clear to us His teaching so that we may find not too hard to understand and accept.
Therefore, as followers of Jesus, let us seek out not those who can do things for us, but those for whom we can do things, for in this way, we are serving Jesus, and in turn, serving God Himself.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!