Sunday, September 23, 2012
The greatest in the Kingdom
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen.
a) A key to the reading:
The text of the Gospel for the liturgy of this Sunday presents us with the second foretelling of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. As in the first foretelling (Mk 8:31-33), the disciples are scared and overcome by fear. They do not understand anything about the cross, because they are not capable of understanding nor of accepting a Messiah who becomes the servant of his brethren. They still dream of a glorious messiah (Mt 16:21-22). There is a great discrepancy among the disciples. While Jesus proclaims his Passion and Death, they discuss who will be the greatest among them (Mk 9:34). Jesus wishes to serve, they only think of ruling! Ambition makes them want to take a place next to Jesus. What is it that stands out in my life: competitiveness and the desire to rule or the desire to serve and encourage others?
Jesus’ reaction to the demands of the disciples helps us understand a little concerning the fraternal pedagogy used by him to form his disciples. It shows us how he helped them to overcome “the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod” (Mk 8:15). Such leaven has deep roots. It springs up again and again! But Jesus does not give up! He constantly fights against and criticises the wrong kind of “leaven”. Today too we have a leaven of the dominant ideology: the spread of the neo-liberal system, of commerce, of consumerism, of novels, of games, all deeply influencing our way of thinking and acting. Today too we have the leaven of the dominant ideology. Like the disciples of Jesus, we too are not always capable of keeping up a critical attitude towards the invasion of this leaven. Jesus’ attitude of formator continues to help us.
b) A division of the text to help us in our reading:
Mark 9:30-32: the proclamation of the Passion
Mark 9:33-37: a discussion on who is the greatest
Mark 9:38-40: the use of the name of Jesus
Mark 9:41: the reward for a cup of water
c) The text:
30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he would not have any one know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise." 32 But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to ask him.
33 And they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you discussing on the way?" 34 But they were silent; for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest. 35 And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, "If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all." 36 And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me."
38 John said to him, "Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us." 39 But Jesus said, "Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. 40 For he that is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) Which words pleased you most or drew your attention?
b) What attitude did the disciples take in each of the passages: vv 30-32; vv 33-37; vv 38-40? Is it the same attitude in the three passages?
c) What is Jesus’ teaching in each episode?
d) What does the phrase “Anyone who is not against us is for us” mean for us today?
5. A key to the reading
for those who wish to go deeper into the text.
Mark 9:30-32: The proclamation of the Cross.
Jesus was going across Galilee, but he did not want the people to know this, because he was concerned with the formation of his disciples. He talks to them about “The Son of Man” who must be handed over. Jesus draws his teaching from the prophecies. In the formation of his disciples he uses the Bible. The disciples listen, but they do not understand. Yet they do not ask for explanations. Perhaps they are afraid to show their ignorance!
Mark 9:33-34: A competitive mentality.
When they return home, Jesus asks: What were you arguing about on the road? They do not reply. It is the silence of those who feel guilty, because they had been arguing which of them was the greatest. The “leaven” of competitiveness and prestige, which characterised the society of the Roman Empire, had infiltrated among the small community still in its beginnings! Here we see the contrast! While Jesus is thinking of being the Messiah-Servant, they were thinking about which of them was the greatest. Jesus tries to descend while they try to ascend!
Mark 9:35-37: To serve and not to rule.
Jesus’ reply is a resume of the witness he had given from the very beginning: If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all! And the last gains nothing. He is a useless servant (cf. Lk 17:10). The use of power is not to ascend or rule, but to descend and serve. This is the point that Jesus stresses most and on which he bases his witness (cf. Mk 10:45; Mt 20:28; Jn 13:1-16).
Jesus takes a little child. Someone who only thinks of ascending and ruling has no time for the little ones, for children. But Jesus turns everything upside down! He says: Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me! He identifies himself with the children. Anyone who welcomes the little ones in the name of Jesus welcomes God himself!
Mark 9:38-40: A restricted mentality.
Someone who did not belong to the community was using the name of Jesus to cast out devils. John, the disciple, sees him and stops him: Because he was not one of us we tried to stop him. John stops a good action in the name of the community. He thought he owned Jesus and wanted to stop others from using Jesus’ name to do good. This was the restricted and old mentality of the “Elect, the separate People!” Jesus replies: You must not stop him! Anyone who is not against us is for us! (Mk 9:40). What is important for Jesus is not whether the person is or is not part of the community, but whether the person does or does not do the good deeds that the community should be doing.
Mark 9:41: A cup of water deserves a reward.
Here we have an inserted phrase used by Jesus: If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward. Let us consider two thoughts: 1) If anyone gives you a cup of water: Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem to give his life. The gesture of a grand gift! But he does not despise small gestures of gifts in daily life: a cup of water, a welcome, a word, so many other gestures. Even the smallest gesture is appreciated. 2) Just because you belong to Christ: Jesus identifies himself with us who wish to belong to him. This means that for him we are of great worth.
b) Further explanations in order to better understand the text
• Jesus, the “Son of Man”
This is Jesus’ favourite name. It appears quite frequently in the Gospel of Mark (Mk 2:10-28; 8:31-38; 9:9-12.31; 10:33-45; 13:26; 14:21.41.62). This title comes from the Old Testament. In the book of Ezekiel, he presents the human condition of the prophet (Ez 3:1.10.17; 4:1 etc.). In the book of Daniel, the same title appears in an apocalyptic vision (Dn 7:1-28), where Daniel describes the empires of the Babylonians, the Medians, the Persians and the Greeks. In the prophet’s vision, these four empires appear as “monstrous animals” (cf. Dn 7:3-8). They are beastly empires, brutal, inhuman, that persecute and kill (Dn 7:21-25). In the prophet’s vision, after two inhuman reigns the Kingdom of God appears in the form not of an animal but that of a human figure, the Son of man. It is a kingdom with the appearance of people, a human kingdom, that promotes life and that humanises (Dn 7:13-14).
In Daniel’s prophecy, the figure of the Son of Man represents, not an individual, but as he says, the “people of the Saints of the Most High” (Dn 7:27; cf Dn 7:18). It is the people of God that will not allow itself to be cheated or manipulated by the dominant ideology of the beastly empires. The mission of the Son of Man, that is, of the people of God, consists in realising the Kingdom of God as a human kingdom. A kingdom that does not destroy life, but rather builds it up! It humanises people.
When Jesus presents himself to his disciples as the Son of Man, he assumes as his the mission that is the mission of the whole People of God. It is as though he were saying to them and to us: “Come with me! This mission is not only mine, but of all of us! Together, let us accomplish the mission that God has entrusted to us: to build the human and humanising Kingdom of his dream! Let us do what he did and lived throughout his life, above all, in the last three years of his life. Pope Leo the Great used to say: “Jesus was so human, so human, as only God can be!” The more human it is, the more divine it becomes. The more we are “son of man” so much more will we be “son of God”. Everything that makes people less human draws people away from God, even in religious life, even in Carmelite life! This is what Jesus condemned and he placed the good of the human person above the law and the Sabbath (Mk 2:27).
• Jesus, the Formator
“To follow” was a term that was part of the system of education at that time. It was used to indicate the relationship between disciple and master. The relationship between disciple and master is different from that of teacher and student. Students follow the lessons of the teacher on some particular subject. Disciples “follow” the master and live with him all the time.
It is during this period of “living together” for three years that the disciples will receive their formation. A formation in the “following of Jesus” was not just the passing on of some decorative truths, but the communication of a new experience of God and of the life that shone from Jesus for the disciples. The very community that grew around Jesus was the expression of this new experience. This formation led people to see things differently, to different attitudes. It created in them a new awareness concerning the mission and respect for self. It made them take the side of the excluded. It produced a “conversion”, the consequence of having accepted the Good News (Mk 1:15).
Jesus is the axle, the centre, the model, the point of reference of the community. He shows the road to follow, he is “the way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). His attitude is proof and an exposition of the Kingdom: he makes the love of the Father transparent and incarnates and reveals it (Mk 6:31; Mt 10:30; Lk 15:11-32). Jesus is a “meaningful person” for them, who will leave on them a permanent mark. Many small gestures mirror this witness of life that Jesus gave by his presence in the life of the disciples. It was his way of giving human form to the experience he had of the Father. In this way of being and sharing, of relating to people, of leading the people and of listening to those who came to him, Jesus is seen:
* as the person of peace, who inspires and reconciles: “Peace be with you!” (Jn. 20:19; Mt 10:26-33; Mt 18:22; Jn 20:23; Mt 16:19; Mt 18:18);
* as a free person and one who liberates, who awakens freedom and liberation: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27; 2:18-23);
* as a person of prayer, whom we see praying at all important moments of his life and who inspires others to prayer: “Lord, teach us to pray!” (Lk 11:1-4; Lk 4:1-13; 6:12-13; Jn 11:41-42; Mt 11:25; Jn 17:1-26; Lk 23:46; Mk 15:34);
* as a loving person who arouses reactions full of love (Lk 7:37-38; 8:2-3; Jn 21:15-17; Mk 14:3-9; Jn 13:1);
*as a welcoming person who is always present in the lives of the disciples and who welcomes them when they come back from the mission (Lk 10:7);
* as a realistic and observing person who arouses the attention of the disciples in matters of life by teaching them in Parables (Lk 8:4-8);
* as a caring person always paying attention to the disciples (Jn 21:9), who looks after their rest and who wishes to stay with them so that the may rest (Mk 6:31);
* as someone preoccupied with the situation even to forgetting that his tiredness and his rest when he sees people who are looking for him (Mt 9:36-38);
* as a friend who shares everything, even the secrets of his Father (Jn 15:15);
* as an understanding person who accepts the disciples just as they are, even when they flee from him, in spite of their denial and their betrayal of him, without ever breaking with them (Mk 14:27-28; Jn 6:67);
* as a committed person who defends his friends when they are criticised by their adversaries (Mk 2:18-19; 7:5-13);
* as a wise person who knows the fragility of human beings, knows what happens in the heart of a person, and thus insists on vigilance and teaches them to pray (Lk 11:1-13; Mt 6:5-15).
In a word, Jesus shows himself to be a human person, very human, so human as only God can know to be human! Son of Man.
6. Psalm 30 (29)
Thanksgiving after some mortal danger
I will extol thee, O Lord,
for thou hast drawn me up,
and hast not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to thee for help,
and thou hast healed me.
O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment,
and his favour is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
As for me, I said in my prosperity,
"I shall never be moved."
By thy favour, O Lord,
thou hadst established me as a strong mountain;
thou didst hide thy face, I was dismayed.
To thee, O Lord,
I cried; and to the Lord I made supplication:
"What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise thee?
Will it tell of thy faithfulness?
Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me!
O Lord, be thou my helper!"
Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing;
thou hast loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness,
that my soul may praise thee and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to thee for ever.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practise the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.