25th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
Jesus has just spoken of being handed over to those who would torture and kill him before he rose from the dead three days later. The incredibly uncurious apostles do not understand and as no questions for their minds seem to be on other things. Jesus hears them talking and when they return home, Jesus asks them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” The Gospel says they remained silent for they had been caught, like teenager caught. I actually imagine it was not quite silence but in a conversation that might seem familiar they mumbled and finally blurted out, “Nothing.”
You see, they were speaking about the worst possible thing at the worst possible time. As Jesus was talking about sacrifice and complete surrender to the will of God, they were arguing about which one of them was the greatest. And you know they were not arguing who was the most selfless because it is self-incriminating to brag about how humble you are. They were preening with pride while Jesus was predicting his humiliation and loss. It would be like if your friend had been laid off and wanted to unburden their fears about supporting the family and you were whispering to one another about how excited you were about an expensive vacation. Not cool.
Jesus of course knows what they are talking about just as parents always seem to know. It is not that he does not need his disciples to be great for he is about to entrust the Gospel to them, But they need to be great according to his understanding of greatness. It must be a greatness directed by selflessness and humility. “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
To prove his point, the Gospel relates, “Taking a child, he placed it in their midst.” (By the way, if you want proof the Gospels were written by men, notice how Mark refers to the child as an “it.” Can you imagine a woman doing that?) Why did he illustrate his point with a child? Is it that children are cuter, more innocent or simply better? They might be all those things but I believe the reason he chose a child is because, as we are painfully aware, children are more vulnerable and more needful.
The glory and the heartbreak of parenthood is that children need parents less and less. The arc runs from depending on parents for everything to hoping they may consider your advice. A child is a perfect image for what Jesus wants to project on his disciples for he would have them depend on God the way a child depends on others. “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.” The power Jesus calls us to possess is not a monument to our success or to power to manipulate others. It is what he exhibited in his life – to rely only on God.
The other morning while flipping through stations looking for inspiration in the least likely place, cable television, I came upon Joyce Myers, the only evangelical preacher I enjoy. She was saying that when we first become convicted in Christ we feel a stirring of holiness within us and we want to change our lives. She said resist that desire to change. Instead, think of how you will yield to the Holy Spirit. Changing ourselves is simply another moment to make it about us just like the disciples on the road. However, to yield to the Holy Spirit, to depend completely on God, is to rid ourselves of ego and follow the true way of discipleship.
This is the mark of true humility. Humility does not consist of doing something well, having someone compliment you and then saying it was not that good. That is lying. True humility sees everything as a gift from God and refers back to the source in thanksgiving.
Jesus Christ still needs great disciples, now as much as ever. But it must be on Jesus’ terms, not our own. We must be humble, vulnerable and needful of our God. It is the only measure of greatness for Christ.