Year B: Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Son of Man is to be Handed Over

Mark 9: 30-37

They left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death he will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him. They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child, he placed it in their midst and putting his arms around it he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”

Discussion Questions: 

  1. In this passage, the disciples are afraid to ask questions to clarify what Jesus means. Is fear part of your faith experience? In what ways might you avoid understanding the deeper meaning in Jesus’ teachings?
  2. For Jesus, greatness has nothing to do with power or prestige but with service to the most vulnerable people in society. What is the primary struggle you face in serving those in need as compared to tending your own comfort, status, or prestige?
  3. How do you make Catholic teaching on Social Justice part of your personal discipleship in following Jesus? In what ways might you participate more or differently?
  4. How do you reconcile the stark difference between Jesus’ idea of greatness with what we are shown each day by the world we live in?
  5. What does the connection Jesus makes between one little child, Himself, and the Father, tell you about the nature of God?

Biblical Context

Mark: 9, 30-37
Mary M. McGlone CSJ

According to Mark’s way of relating the story, Jesus was rather casual when he first told the disciples that he was headed for suffering, death and new life. As we heard in last week’s Gospel, he initiated the conversation with the question of who others thought he was and then went on to explain that his vocation was to be God’s suffering servant, not a warrior king. This week our Gospel presents his second attempt to help the disciples understand what he was really all about.

Mark tells us that Jesus was traveling in secret, carving out essential time with his disciples, trying to help them comprehend how he understood his vocation. Now he addresses his theme head-on and tells them that the Son of Man will be handed over, be killed, and will rise after three days. Instead of responding with sorrow or even protest, the disciples said nothing. Mark explains their silence saying, “They were afraid to question him.” That phrase reflects the original end of the Gospel (Mark 16:8) when the women who received the message of Jesus’ resurrection said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.

Of what were they afraid? Earlier in the Gospel, people responded with fear when Jesus calmed the storm (4:41); when they saw the exorcism of the man who lived among the tombs (5:15); when the woman who was healed by touching his garment came before him (5:33); and when Jesus walked on the water (6:50). In each of those instances, it was Jesus’ awesome power that led them to fear. Now it seems that his vulnerability frightened them. In either case, they responded with fear to what they couldn’t understand.

When Jesus had told them not to speak, the word of his accomplishments spread quickly. When he talked to them about what was coming or asked them what they had been arguing about, they remained silent. Fear is embarrassing to admit and confession, even though it is more honest, can be much harder than bragging.

The first message Jesus preached in Mark’s Gospel was, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” His call to repentance (metanoia) invited them to take on an entirely new mindset, to begin to live as participants in God’s reign over creation. Everything that Jesus said and did from that on was a revelation of God’s reign, but it was so different from everyone’s experience and expectations that little glimpses of it were often frightening.

Jesus’ message that the powers of evil would muster all their strength against him was the most frightening message of all for disciples who hadn’t adopted his perspective. Jesus looked at life from the vantage point of the inbreaking of the kingdom of God. He knew it was like yeast: subtly but relentlessly at work in their midst. Even with clear signs that his enemies were about to strike, Jesus believed that darkness could not swallow up light, and evil machinations would prove impotent against the kind of power God wields. So, he lived as if death did not matter.

The disciples, so enthralled with their own ideas about   a messiah and their own fears, missed the most important point of what Jesus was saying. Even today, when we refer to this as a passion prediction, we truncate Jesus and his message. Each time that he was going to suffer, the promise that he would rise was an integral part of the statement. He warned the disciples that it would look like evil won, but he assured them that it wasn’t true — it wasn’t even possible. Rather than a Passion prediction, we could do better to call this a Resurrection prophecy.

Jesus also knew that the only way his disciples could believe what he taught was if he showed them it was true. No talk had been sufficient. The disciples continually fell back on their customary way of thinking, trying to out do one another, which is simply another expression of violence. When words were not enough, Jesus decided to shock them with a sign. He picked up a child and said in effect: “ You want to be important? Here’s what important looks like!”
Which of the disciples had to move over to make room for the new, young star of Jesus’ show? In reality he wanted them all to move over — all the way to last place with him. Like the child, he trusted in his Father, and like his Father, he watched out particularly for the little ones.

Jesus was focused on living in God’s promised future while his disciples were caught in the milieu of what they considered probable. The only way to really understand what he was saying was to do what he did, to trust in God as he did. One way to start was by learning to be a servant: servants of God and servants of God’s little ones.

I Want to be Great Don’t You?

Fr. Michael K. Marsh

Let’s be honest here. I don’t know about you, but that’s not how I’ve lived most of my life. That’s not what I see happening in much of our country. That’s probably not what most of us were told or taught growing up. Sure, we might have heard that verse in Sunday school or church and even agreed with it, but then Monday came.

For most of us, I suspect, Monday greatness is about being number one, a winner, a success. It’s about power, control, wealth, fame, reputation, status, and position. Have you ever seen the losing super bowl team dancing around Monday morning with two fingers in the air shouting, “We’re number two, we’re number two?” Probably not and you probably never will. Can you imagine a political slogan about making America last or a servant of other countries? And who wants to be the servant of all anyway? That’s for the poor and uneducated, minorities or foreigners, and those we can get away with paying less than a living wage. At least that’s often how it works today. Being last and servant of all is not what we usually strive for. That’s not the greatness to which we aspire.

If being great, holding the number one position, means being last of all and servant of all, then we have completely misunderstood what greatness is really about.  And the disciples don’t understand greatness any more than we do.

“What were you arguing about along the way?” Jesus asks them. “But they were silent for they had argued with one another who was the greatest.” Jesus didn’t get an answer to his question, only silence. It was the silence of having been caught, found out. Jesus isn’t asking for his sake but for theirs. He seems to have already known what they were arguing about.

Their argument happened on a public road, out in the open. His question, however, is asked in the privacy and interior space of a house. This is about more than a change in physical location. Jesus is moving the conversation inward. He’s not gathering information for himself but inviting the disciples’ self-reflection on what it means to be great. He’s presenting the disciples with an image and the reality of their better selves, and he’s doing so for us too.

Jesus is not saying that we should not or cannot be great. He never says that. Rather, he is asking us to reframe our understanding of greatness.

What does it mean and look like for you and me to be great in today’s world? That’s the question.

Jesus answers that question by taking a little child in his arms and saying to the disciples, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

I want us to be careful here. Jesus does not say that greatness is in being a child and he doesn’t say that greatness is in being childlike. Greatness is in welcoming the child.

Now that doesn’t sound too difficult or challenging. Who wouldn’t welcome a little child? But Jesus isn’t talking about the child. He’s talking about what the child represents. We’ve so romanticized and sentimentalized children and childhood in today’s culture that it can be difficult to understand what Jesus is getting at.

The child is a symbol for something else. The child is a symbol of vulnerability, powerlessness, and dependency. The child in Jesus’ day had no rights, no status, no economic value. The child was a consumer and not a producer. Greatness, Jesus says, is in welcoming and receiving into our arms one like this, regardless of his or her age.

Greatness is found not in what we have accomplished and gained for ourselves but in what we have done and given to “the least of these” (Mt. 25:40), the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and imprisoned; the symbolic children in each of our lives. Think about a family member or a nurse’s aide who bathes, changes, and cares for the elderly, the sick, the dying; she or he is a great one. I can’t help but think about the members of our Open Table ministry and how week after week they meet with and invest themselves in the life of another; they are great ones.

Greatness never puts itself in a position of superiority over another. It is not about me; my nation, my tribe, my people, my religion, my politics, my bank account, my house, my job, my accomplishments, my reputation, my status. Our greatness is revealed in our service and care of others regardless of her or his ability or willingness to pay, repay, or return the favor.

When Jesus talked about loving others even when they don’t love you (Lk. 6:32), doing good to those who do not do good to you (Lk. 6:33), lending without expectation of repayment (Lk. 6:34) , and inviting to supper those who cannot invite you back (Lk. 14:12), he was describing greatness.

Greatness comes to us when we share with others who have nothing to share with us. Think of the young boy who shared his five loaves and two fish with 5000 people who contributed nothing but their hunger (Jn. 6:9). He was great. Last week I sat in a meeting with ten or twelve people gathered around a table at the food pantry listening to them discuss how they could better feed the hungry in Uvalde. They are the great ones.

Greatness comes when we forgive one who has neither asked for our forgiveness nor changed his or her behavior. Those who refuse to carry bitterness or envy toward another are great. When we respond to the needs of others, when we refuse thoughts and actions of hatred or prejudice then greatness comes. Our refusal to objectify the opposite sex or to join in jokes about minorities or foreigners is an act of greatness. When we overcome fear, tear down walls, and make room for one who is different, vulnerable, in need, then we are great.

Last week I heard Monica, one of the children in our school, pray that we would be kind to each other. She is on her way to greatness.

Greatness is not something to be achieved or earned. It is a quality that arises within us when our lives are in balance, and we step into our better selves. That’s the life Jesus offers us. That’s the life I want to live. I want to be great, don’t you? This kind of greatness happen in the simple, ordinary, and mundane. It often goes unnoticed and unnamed but it’s there. Greatness is always a choice set before us.

You know what day tomorrow is, right? It’s Monday. Jesus will set Monday’s child before us. And Monday greatness will tempt and call us. But there is another greatness, the greatness of the last and the greatness of the servant of all.

I wonder who the child is that Jesus will set before us. I wonder which greatness you and I will choose.

“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

Let me know how your Monday goes.