Powerless in His Kingdom
Wisd 2: 12, 17-20. James 3: 16- 4:3. Mark 9: 30-37.
Mohamed Ali, the one-time heavy weight champion would often boast, “I am the greatest!”, and people believed he was. We may not openly claim to be the greatest in any particular field but deep down we like to feel that we are on the top, we belong to the elite, second to none. We all play the power game in one way or another and much of our behaviour is aimed at asserting: “I am No. 1” May His word challenge us to be powerless in His Kingdom.
The first reading from the book of Wisdom paints the picture of the true Israelite, whose life is an unspoken protest against the lawlessness of his ungodly neighbours, who are irritated and upset by the silent protest of his life, so plan to kill him. If we live God’s life fully our actions will speak louder than our words and people who are not living as they should, will be confronted by our lives. Is my life always a confrontation of injustice, and untruth? Because of the parallels between the just man in the book of Wisdom and Jesus Christ, this passage is regarded as a prediction of the passion of Christ, and the cost of discipleship for every follower of Christ. The reading also reminds us that the just man was put to the test to see if he would hold out. “Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if He is God’s child, God will help him.” Life is always testing us, situations are always testing our mettle, and in these trying circumstances the temptation is to rely on our will power and on our strength. But the just man relies not on himself but on God. He knows he is weak and he comes in his weakness to the Lord. He makes his own the prayer of the Psalmist: “The Lord upholds my life.” Are we ready to be just men and women of God who accept powerlessness as the test of discipleship?
Servant of All
Dr. Charles Mayo, with his father and brother founded the world famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. One time a group of European medical experts were guests of Dr. Mayo at his home. According to the custom of their homelands the guests placed their shoes outside their bedrooms to be polished during the night. Dr. Charles was the last to retire. As he went to his room he noticed the shoes. It was too late to wake up any of the servants. With a sigh he gathered up al the footwear, hauled them into the kitchen, and spent half the night polishing them.
—- Msgr Arthur Tonne in ‘Five Minute Homilies on the Gospels of the Years A, B, C.’
In the second reading St. James asks his listeners: “Those conflicts among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from the cravings that are at war within you?” If we are constantly entering into conflict with others could it be because we are exercising power and control over others? We envy what others have, and subtly try to possess what we do not have or belittle what others have and we cannot possess. Do we have to ‘put people in their place,’ find fault with them to level off with them, or are we ready to be tolerant of the weaknesses of others?
In today’s Gospel Jesus is concerned about forming his disciples and is spending time with them preparing them for his forthcoming passion and death. This is Mark’s second announcement of the passion as though he wants to drive the point home that Jesus has come to be the suffering servant of God. In today’s Gospel Jesus does not mince words but speaks plainly: “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” Jesus makes it very clear that he is not the type of Messiah they are expecting. He will not exercise authority, He will not play the power game, He will not rely on himself and his power but be totally powerless, totally obedient to the Father’s will. The Gospel tells us that they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. Perhaps they did not want to understand and did not want Jesus to spell it out more plainly. This becomes clearer when Jesus asks them what they were arguing about along the way. Jesus had been talking of his passion, his suffering, of himself as the powerless suffering servant of God while the disciples were arguing among themselves about who was the greatest among them!
I am the Greatest!
Peter said: “Of course without doubt, I am the most important! Didn’t he call me the rock on which that community of his is going to be built?” John said: “I am sorry for you. What you say might be true, but that is only a question of administrative bureaucracy. The fact that you might be a good administrator does not make you the most important one. You should look for something else. You should be attentive to something more important. You should look for his love, and if you do that, well, he loves me most.” Then Judas spoke: He said: “The most important fellow is the man with the money. You don’t need to be a Marxist or a capitalist to know that. The world is ruled by money, and to whom did he entrust his money? To me, and that is why….” Phillip spoke: “All that is very nice. Do you remember when he had that catering problem in the desert with all those thousands, when nobody knew what to do, himself included? He turned to me for advice. I am sorry for you but he asked me!” Joseph G. Donders in ‘Praying and Preaching the Sunday Gospel’
Perhaps Jesus was frustrated that they still did not get the point after all his teaching about what kind of a Messiah he had come to be and about how different his Kingdom was from other earthly kingdoms. But he was a patient teacher and so he sat down called the twelve to him and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be the last of all and the servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me…” What is the message that Jesus was trying to impress upon his disciples? Why did he take a child? Unlike many present-day cultures where children are the joy and the centre of the home, in Jesus’ time children had no rights, they were the least and could easily be dispensed with. In this particular instance Jesus is not telling his disciples to be childlike but to be ready to welcome the child, ready to be open to the helpless, the one that has no rights. In welcoming the weak we welcome Jesus and the Father into our lives. The way of Jesus was the way of obedience to the Father’s will, and if it was the Father’s will for him to be helpless he was ready to embrace weakness and the weak as His way to the Father. Discipleship challenges us to accept helplessness and very often we are not ready for it, we rather prefer to be strong. Am I ready to acknowledge my own powerlessness and am I open to accepting the weaknesses of others around me?
All God’s Children
There is a legend told about Abraham in the Mideast. According to the legend, he always held off eating his breakfast each morning until a hungry man came along to share it with him. One day an old man came along, and of course Abraham invited him to share his breakfast with him. However when Abraham heard the old man say a pagan blessing over the food, he jumped up and ordered the old man from his table and from his house. Almost immediately, God spoke to Abraham. “Abraham! Abraham! I have been supplying that unbeliever with food every day for the past eighty years. Could you not have tolerated him for just one meal?” We are all children of God. God has no grandchildren! Jack McArdle in ‘And that’s the Gospel Truth’
May we be open to the weak and thus discover God!
Fr. Franco Pereira, S.D.B.