September 27, 2015 St Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL
Numbers 11, 25-29 + Psalm 19 + James 5, 1-6 + Mark 9, 38-43, 45, 47-48
John sounds like a second grader on the playground complaining to the teacher that the big kids will not let him play. Again the apostles do not look so good, and the unflattering image of them we have been given the last two weeks gets one more example here. First Peter had to be put in his place behind Jesus, and then Jesus embraced a little child and spoke to them about service and being last instead of being first. John has heard all of this, and I think he does not particularly like this idea, so he changes the subject.
There are two problems that surface here with John and his friends. He clearly does not understand the meaning of the word, “disciple” which means, one who learns discipline from another. He does not understand the meaning of the word “apostle” either, because an apostle is one who is sent by another. Up to this point, they have not been disciples. They have not learned any discipline from the Master. They keep thinking it’s all about them. Their whole motive thus far in staying with Jesus is their gain. They are there because they look good hanging around Jesus of Nazareth. He’s famous, and they are close to him. They belong to an exclusive group of insiders. They think they should control who gets to see Jesus and who does not. They are clearly not ready to be sent anywhere.
John’s second problem is even more serious. He does not understand that being called to discipleship is a vocation to collaborate in God’s plan for humanity. If they had understood and accepted God’s plan as they saw it unfolding in the work of Jesus Christ, they would have been excited that someone else was successful in the struggle with evil. Instead of whining to Jesus about another person driving out a demon, they would have run up to that person rejoicing that someone was joining in the work; but they cannot do that. They are too convinced of their privileged position and completely threatened by the success of another. Instead of looking ahead toward the reign of God and Christ’s victory over death and sin, they are looking around at each other wondering who is going get the best seat, and who belongs and who does not.
The grace of God is unruly, and the Holy Spirit blows where it will. Our experience ought to tell us that we have no control over either one. Instead of being jealous and competitive, we ought to be full of excitement, admiration, and gratitude when someone excels, finds success, and in their own way with their own gifts contributes to the work of Christ in this world. Jealousy is a dark and ugly emotion that drives us away from one another and ultimately from God. A true disciple and one called to be an apostle will have their gaze fixed upon the giver of all good gifts. They will not be looking from side to side at people who are different and have different gifts. They will know from their loving relationship to Christ that they already have all that they need, and there will be no need to feel or act important. John’s concern is that there are others who, in his words, “do not follow us.” He thinks his way is the only way, forgetting that it is really about God’s way which seems by all accounts to be bigger and more inclusive than we can imagine.
There is nothing here to suggest that it is meaningless to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. There is a close link between Jesus and the disciples reflected in the solidarity of the community. When someone offers a disciple a cup of water, they give it to Christ so tight is the bond with Christ. The community, the church formed by the Holy Spirit living the very life of Christ is as open and inclusive as Christ was to Tax Collectors, Samaritans, Pharisees, women and lepers. This says a great deal to this world today struggling with the challenge of countless refugees fleeing violence and hopeless poverty. Our privileged life cannot make us exclusive. It must make us troubled and anxious to show them the face of Christ and the mercy of God. These hands, these feet, these eyes Jesus speaks of today are tools with which we see the face of Christ, lift up and hold up the fallen, and walk with them into a life that is very reign of God. This is the discipline of a disciple, and for this we have been chosen in faith and sent out in ways we could never have imagined.