Reading 1: Wisdom: 2:12, 17-20
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm: 54:3-4, 5, 6, 8
Reading 2: James 3:16-4:3
Gospel: Mark: 9:30-37
WISDOM ON THE ROAD
Sometimes when you scan the newspaper or catch the news on television the content seems to be a discouraging, and endless, report of conflicts and controversy. In Chicago (and other places, too) we keep a dreadful score of shootings each weekend. For those of us who listen to the Scriptures this Sunday, it may sound like more of the same!
The centerpiece of Mark’s Gospel is Jesus’ fateful journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. Galilee has been the site of Jesus’ great healings and teaching, but now he leads his disciples some 150 miles south to the heart of Israel, the city of Jerusalem, where Jesus will encounter his passion. Three times during this journey, Jesus will alert his disciples to what lies ahead: Jesus will fall into the hands of his opponents and ultimately be crucified by the Roman authorities. But Jesus also signals that the final word will not be death but, through the power of God, triumph over death.
Each time his disciples hear these dramatic predictions of Jesus, they react in a contrary way. This Sunday’s reading is a typical example. While Jesus speaks about the giving of his life, his disciples argue among themselves “who was the greatest!” An amazing lack of understanding on their part.
As also happens after each passion prediction, Jesus patiently assembles his ragtag followers and speaks to them once more about what discipleship truly means: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” The Greek word diakonos translated as “servant” is a keyword in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus himself describes his entire ministry and his giving of his life for others as an act of “service” (Mk 10:45). The authentic spirit of Christian life is not self-aggrandizement or crowding out others for our own gain but being attentive to the needs of others and being willing to expend one’s life and energy for the sake of others — true “service.”
The other readings for this Sunday make the same point in a different key. The first reading from the Book of Wisdom about the “just” person, even though written long before his birth, was viewed by the early Christians as an anticipation of Jesus himself. The person described in Wisdom is “just” and “gentle,” a “child of God.” But his opponents are driven by a very different spirit and find his goodness a rebuke to their way of living and so they assault the “just one” with torture and even death. Mark will portray the mockery of Jesus on the cross in similar words.
The second reading from the blunt Letter of James puts its finger on a root cause of “wars” and “conflicts.” All too often violence breaks out because of unbridled “passions” — driven by things we “covet but do not possess,” or we “kill and envy” because of things “we cannot obtain.” How often we hear of those in civic or corporate life who violate their trust by unchecked greed. How much violence has occurred by those seeking revenge or payback?
The seemingly unending scourge of the pandemic has led a lot of people to take stock of their lives. Many of the things and routines we counted on previously seem to have melted away. And we can be forced to choose what and whom we really need.
Christian life is not intended to be a grim pursuit of virtue or a life without color or joy. Rather, we are invited to think about our deepest desires or “passions” as the Letter of James advises. We are to seek true “greatness” not by serving ourselves only but by learning how to reach out to others and share life with them.
As a sign of all this, at the conclusion of his instruction to the disciples, Jesus embraces a child. In the ancient world (and to an extent, in our own), the child had no standing and was completely vulnerable. Jesus tells his disciples to “receive,” protect, and care for the vulnerable child — a sign of authentic service and a sure path to life.
Rev. Donald Senior, CP
President Emeritus, Chancellor, Professor of New Testament
[This reflection originally appeared in The Chicago Catholic, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and is used with permission.]