September 30, 2018 by
David Jackson in
Reflections on Sunday Gospels
On the way but arguing.
Today we hear Jesus’ second announcement of his Passion and the response. Three passion predictions, response to each and Jesus’ teaching are central to this section of Mark’s Gospel known as THE WAY. Jesus asks them in today’s passage: “What were you arguing about on the way?”
Mark is fond of framing sections of his Gospel. Mark began the WAY section with the healing of the blind man of Bethsaida . This man was progressively healed of his blindness by Jesus. Mark closes the section with the story of the Blind Man of Jericho, Bartimaeus. Jesus was preoccupied with the blindness of the Apostles and along the WAY teaches them and us.
Along the WAY section Mark deliberately makes reference to geographical place names. The first blind man is from BETHSAIDA . Last Sunday’s Gospel began: “Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of CAESAREA PHILIPPI. Along the WAY¼” And a few verses later, “He began to teach them¼” This passage is followed by the experience on the Mount of Transfiguration. It appears that Jesus then returned to CAPERNAUM. Today’s Gospel began: “Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a JOURNEY THROUGH GALILEE. ¼ “ He was teaching his disciples. He then makes the second announcement of his Passion. And later on, “They came to CAPERNAUM ¼”
The response to the second announcement is: “But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him.” These two motifs, lack of perception and fearful inhibition to ask for an explanation, reinforce each other and strengthen the case of the disciples’ dilemma. If they do not understand what is being said, but are afraid to find out, they will be locked ever more deeply into ignorance.
Jesus pursues their response with his question: “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.” It is clear that disciples were interested in personal power and prestige. It would seem Peter and the disciples derive their personal identities from a messianic concept of power and glory.
We must listen to Jesus’ words carefully: “And he sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘If anyone wants to be first he must be last of all and servant of all.” When we hear “first” we usually think power, priority, and authority. What Jesus is attacking is the concept of authority that the Twelve had. Jesus is teaching that genuine authority is assumed by serving the people, all the people, not by lording it over them. Above all, authority means to show concern for the little ones, the children, those who have least power of all. In ancient culture, children had no status. They were subject to the authority of their fathers, viewed as little more than property. Membership within the community of the faithful will involve giving status to those who have none. Accepting such an unimportant member of society in Jesus’ name is equivalent to accepting Jesus. Accepting Jesus is equivalent to accepting God. Hospitality, a major aspect of life in the ancient world, is to be extended to the most unlikely, thus challenging traditional notions of status. This concept of power in service must now be understood by the Twelve.
What does this mean for us who call ourselves disciples of Jesus today? Ideal life is depicted so often as the lifestyle of the rich and famous. We are encouraged to be conspicuous spenders, to exhaust from life all of pleasure that is possible. Values that bombard us are: comfort, wealth, power to control others. Why be a “truth seeker” when you can be a “status seeker?” These values are in contradiction to the value of service.
Jesus gave a one-sentence summary of what importance really means and how to achieve it. Then he did an unpredictable thing. He took a little child, stood him in the midst of his disciples, put his arms around him, and said: “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me¼” Jesus tells us to learn from a child. They teach us to be humble. They don’t care what degrees we have, what kind of car we drive, or where we live, or how much money we have in the bank. What children want to know is whether we are warm, and real, and loving. Do we know how to smile with our eyes, as well as our mouths? Children have a longer period of dependence than any other creatures. Someone must take care of them for years, or else they will not survive. Their helplessness requires us to forget ourselves, and look to the needs of others. They teach us to be servants.
Our Lord knew what he was doing. He put a child at the center of life, and all of our attempts to feel important look just as silly as they are. The truth of the matter is that we have no importance, except in the eyes of the God who loves us, and in the lives of the people who need us. Make room in your life for those who need you. Then you will not be worried about importance. That will not even matter anymore. But to someone, or to several someones, you may well become the most important person in the world.