This Sunday Jesus makes another revelation of the attitude of the Kingdom of God. As master he is first among his disciples, and yet, his power is not for lording over others, but for service. How ready we, you and I, to embrace this child-like attitude, especially of humble service?
Bible readings Wisdom 2: 12–20 Psalm 54: 3–6, 8 James 3: 16—4 3 Mark 9: 30–37
What wrong have I done?
What on earth have I done against this person? It’s a question you can’t help asking when someone has hostile attitude towards you for no apparent reason. Puzzle! Of course, it’s painful to find yourself in such limbo. Negative! On the other hand, positive side, it may help you appreciate the fact that there are those who are condemned in their innocence. We see that in the 1st Reading. What’s happening?
Book of Wisdom at the service of Jews in diaspora
The first reading is taken from the book of Wisdom, written in Egypt, that is, among Jews in diaspora. Given the Hellenistic culture that reigned there, the book was written in Greek, unlike many other OT books written in Hebrew. That explains, of course partly, why this book is excluded in the Jewish bible. Anyhow, the refusal to incorporate it in the Jewish canon does not in any way take away from it its relevance.
The book was written to boost and to encourage the Jews living in that foreign land to keep the faith. The encounter with another culture and other peoples exposed them to a kind of wisdom that was not always in harmony with the demands of their own religion. So, in the book of Wisdom we find insights about the way of life that conforms to living in the fear of God, expected of a Jew. No doubt, immersed in a new environment, some Jews lost their own identity and embraced a new way of life. Others, however, kept the faith. But at what price?
You make me feel uncomfortable
Those who kept their Jewish identity distinguished themselves by a style of life, by their values and practices, different from most people around. For that they didn’t get an ovation. Worse enough, the negative reaction didn’t come necessarily from the majority that held a different religion, but especially from their fellow Jews who had lapsed. The faithfulness of one group exposed the unfaithfulness of the other, there you have the point of conflict. That’s the reason of the ill feeling that we get from the first reading. No need for a comment, I recommend that you read it yourself:
[The wicked say to each other], “Let us lie in wait or the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training. Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God’s child, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture, so that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.” (Wisdom 2:12, 17-20)
Suffering servant community
What image does this reading evoke? Of course, that of a suffering servant, among others. However, here it’s not in terms of a single person but the entire community that is subjected to harassment and scorn because of its faithful. We can see also the image of Jesus who was condemned to death despite having done nothing wrong meriting such punishment. His only crime is that he rendered some people ill at ease by his resolve to remain faithful and loyal to his mission. That’s the case also for a disciple who commits himself to the mission of Christ; it’s not the applause that awaits him.
This text may evoke probably your own experience or of someone else suffering in their innocence. So, this experience of the remnants of Israel, those who remained faithful despite the adverse pressure in the land of exile, can inspire us to remain faithful to our most profound convictions even when the surrounding is unfavourable. And inspired by the 1st reading, our prayers and kind thoughts go to all those who are suffering blamelessly. It’s a service we can render.
But what’s wrong with our world?
We may be interested to know why such injustice in our world? Why are some people subjected to punishment so gratuitously? It’s an important question worthy of a Christian; and it’s not for simple curiosity. Why? It’s our role as Christians, among other things, to reflect and to act in the manner that ferments transformation in the society we live in. The Good News of the kingdom announced by Jesus is a message that transforms the human heart so as to, consequently, transform also the human society. That can happen when we dare to pose fundamental questions which enable us to unearth the roots of the injustice that we see around us. But how can this Sunday’s gospel help us?
Jesus on the way with his disciples
As they walk, Jesus takes advantage of the occasion to teach the disciples, however, it looks like they are taken up by other things. Later, Jesus asks the disciples: “What were you arguing about on the way?” Silence! They are embarrassed. Their talk had nothing to do with his teaching, but scramble for power. And that’s not foreign to us either -unfortunately.
If you go back to the rivalry that I have evoked above, which is apparently for no reason; a little reflection however will probably reveal a war for power. You look at your family, your group, or your place of work -what’s the major source of conflict? There too you are likely to find scramble for power in its different forms.
How do we arrive at cease fire?
That’s the Gospel for this Sunday, by service! Jesus invites us to serve. If we are intent at accumulating power for the sake of power, then we risk falling into interminable series of cold wars, which we want to win at the detriment of the other. The other is no longer a friend, a colleague or sibling but becomes a competitor. On the contrary, if we are animated by the spirit of service, then, whatever position we may hold will be used to build, edify and encourage the other. Perhaps it can help us just to allow the question of Jesus resound also in our family and at our place of work: What are you arguing about? In other words, what is our preoccupation?
A child, image of the Kingdom
Slowly, Jesus is grooming his disciples, us too, into the spirit of the kingdom. Last Sunday he revealed himself as messiah who is there, not to display the muscles of his force; but the suffering messiah who identifies himself with the little ones. And this Sunday, he goes on to affirm the greatness that lies in the humble service of others. But to descend from our pride and stoop down to serve, it takes the humility and the innocence of a child -sign of the kingdom. Lord, that may be a servant like you!
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