Wisdom 2:12, 17-20
But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him. Mark 9:32
Today’s Gospel is a three-part Play.
Part One: The second prediction of the Passion. As this scene opens, Jesus is walking with his disciples on a journey through Galilee. Jesus was still revealing his true nature as the Son of God to them, in ordinary and extraordinary ways. He took his three close friends, Peter James and John up a high mountain and was transfigured before their eyes. The disciples didn’t know what to make of this extraordinary revelation of Jesus, so they kept the questions they had about what they experienced to themselves.
Shortly after Jesus’ Transfiguration, Jesus began telling them what was in store for himself and for them. They would all go to Jerusalem, where Jesus was going to be taken prisoner, condemned to die but after three days, he would rise from the dead. They heard Jesus’ words, but they did not understand their meaning. They probably didn’t want to take these words literally. Once more, they kept their questions to themselves.
Part Two: The disciples want to know among themselves who was the greatest. This is not the first nor would it be the last time that this question of who was the greatest among them would become a point of contention. In the Gospel of Luke, they argue about this during the Last Supper! Our second reading for today’s Mass gives us a more detailed accounting of what happens when we become jealous of one another and let selfish ambition take over our lives. It leads to violence, coveting what is not ours and allowing our selfish passions to control us. Again, this ceaseless desire as to who is the greatest among them shows Jesus that the disciples were not understanding his words and deeds.
Part Three: The Greatest in the Kingdom of God. Then Jesus does what he does best. First, he calls his 12 Apostles together for a very private conversation about their endless discussions on who is the greatest among them. Then, Jesus sets them straight as to how they can tell who is the greatest among themselves: it’s the one who serves! To top it all off, Jesus then calls a little child to himself, embraces the child and teaches them the lesson that they will reflect upon and later teach others for the rest of their lives. Whoever receives a little child in his name, receives Jesus’ himself and the One who sent Jesus to them in the first place, his Loving Father. So, this is not about them, their talents and their abilities, but about welcoming the other, no matter how improbable it may seem. Matthew 25 sums it up in this way: “Amen I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least of my brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
What a timely message for us who are Jesus’ disciples today. If we were to examine ourselves and our lives, we may find ourselves being more like the disciples and Apostles in this Gospel passage. How many times have we failed to understand what God is telling us? How many times do we bury the questions within us that can help us understand? How many times do we move from the important task of taking up our cross, to argue about who is the greatest among us? How many times do we fail to see Christ and the Father who sent us Christ in the children, the immigrants who cross our boarders, the refugees who are fleeing persecution and wars?
Let us remember Jesus’ words to his Apostles and meditate upon 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.”
Fr. Clemente Barrón, C.P. is a member of Mater Dolorosa Community in Sierra Madre, California.