Commentary on the Gospel of
Today’s first reading from the book of wisdom addresses the suffering of the “just one,” especially the suffering that results from the cruelty of others. This cruelty is driven by self-centered egos that want only comfort in life and will not tolerate any challenge to be more than they can be. The letter of James calls this “jealousy and selfish ambition.” It’s a refusal to acknowledge our own ongoing need for conversion.
The second reading is an apt description of the human condition; the warring within the human heart. As the letter of James is written to an early Christian community, most likely Jewish Christians, this is not so much a chastisement of their evil and bad behavior, but rather a pastoral letter of encouragement. It is a reminder that conversion is an ongoing process, not a onetime event. He gives them an “antidote” to jealousy and selfish ambition. He tells them they can recognize the kingdom of God present among them where there is peace, gentleness, compliance, mercy, sincerity and “good fruits.” They are continually transformed in Christ to the extent that they seek goodness.
Today’s gospel from Mark includes a second prediction from Jesus of his approaching passion, which is “prophesized” in the reading from Wisdom. “He will be tortured and put to the test, condemned to a shameful death.” This leaves the disciples speechless - confused and fearful. How alone he must have felt!
When they arrive in Capernaum Jesus changes the subject: “What were you arguing about on the way?” Again, they were speechless, embarrassed because they had been discussing among themselves who was the greatest… again the self-centered ego at work. Then Jesus sat down and called together his closest followers for this important teaching moment. What he tells them next must have been quite a shock. “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.” If this had been the 21st century, we might interpret this action as welcoming innocence and trust, vulnerability and dependence. But in this time and place, children had no status, they were not even considered to be a person. And what was the child doing in the room with the teacher and his disciples? The child’s place was with the mother and other siblings. How does this change your understanding of Jesus’ words?
In my work here at Creighton with professional health care students, I often here about their desires to be of service and not to be selfish. This bodes well for our future health care providers! Sometimes we need to talk about what they consider “selfish” – what is driven by the self-centered ego and what is just good, healthy self-care. I tell them that taking time to work out and care for their bodies or taking time to be alone to pray, be quiet and reflect and care for their souls is not selfish. Quite the opposite – we must take good care of ourselves in order to be able to give ourselves away! Healthy self-care is driven by gratitude for the gift of life that we have been given. Self-care and service to others are not in opposition to each other but rather service is the good fruit of healthy self-care.