September 19, 2021 at Saint Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, FL
Wisdom 2, 12, 17-20 + Psalm 54 + James 3, 16 -37 4: 3 + Mark 9, 30-37
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is slowing making his way to Jerusalem where he will be “handed over” which is our translation of a Greek word that can also mean “betrayed.” Mark uses that word eight times, and in that fact, there might be a message. It seems to me that the betrayal has already started with these apostles who are more concerned about their self-interest than they are about his future. To look at the cross and ask what we’re going to get out of it is, in some ways a betrayal.
The apostles had a choice. It is the same choice we have to make. On that occasion, they made the wrong choice. They thought about themselves first. So, Jesus puts that child in front of them. Children at that time were hardly thought of as persons. They could produce nothing. They had to be fed in a place where food was scarce. They had no power, were unprotected, and vulnerable. Contrary to the ambitions of “the twelve” for powerful places in the Kingdom, Jesus suggests that they might be more concerned with welcoming the powerless and the vulnerable. For who is more powerless and vulnerable than Jesus himself as he moves on toward the inevitable? So, what’s the difference between Jesus and that child?
We are all reminded today of the danger ambition and a thirst for power poses for us all at every level of society. Wondering or even arguing about who is the greatest is a serious betrayal of Jesus Christ. It will break a fundamental solidarity with our neighbor, and that can’t happen in the Kingdom of Heaven. This is nothing but raw competition, and it is destructive. It makes “losers” and there are no losers in God’s Kingdom. All around those twelve and still all around us are images of power and pseudo authority that often looks more like bullying than anything else. Except for Jesus at the time of this Gospel, there were no examples of authority that expressed itself in love that empowered others and created unity. Competition and power struggles were much easier to understand, and they still are, but this is a method rejected by Jesus.
It’s all about least when it comes to God. Paralyzed by our need to be number one, to protect our privilege and power, and our need to be right all the time, we do not see the vulnerable, powerless, and helpless that Jesus embraces. Jesus may well still wonder what it is we are arguing about these days, and the day may come when he asks us face to face.