25th Sunday Ordinary Time September 23, 2018
Wisdom 2:12, 17-20, Ps 54:3-8; James 3:16-4:3; Mark 9:30-37
Last Sunday we “saw” our readings in the very center of Mark’s Gospel. Jesus is beginning to reveal himself for who he really is. The readers, like the disciples, are beginning to see the true face of Jesus – his actions, his teaching, his miracles come together to prove him to be the Messiah. While the Gospel might at first look appear to be simple, we are finding the arrangement of the events and teachings are carefully woven together. This Gospel can be compared to a complex tapestry. If we look at the reverse side first, we see the colors, but the pattern seems random and disorganized. Only when we turn the tapestry over to the front, we see the artistry and the picture that those many threads were woven together to create.
So, again as last week, our lectionary has omitted some important and relevant events. Shortly after Jesus’ teaching about his upcoming crucifixion, death and resurrection, he takes Peter, James, and John up the mountain to witness the transfiguration. Jesus’ appearance changes, they hear the voice of God, and see Elijah and Moses. What Jesus has said is now experienced by the 3 apostles. It strengthens Jesus for his upcoming death, and better prepares the apostles for the trauma of his death and the shock of his resurrection. Again, Mark wrote his Gospel as if it was it was a picture being woven– the readers, along with the apostles, are given threads that must be assembled, with the resurrection and Pentecost completing the picture.
They come down the mountain from the transfiguration. The disciples who stayed behind have tried to heal a boy who has had terrible seizures since birth. They are unable to heal him, and the Jewish scribes are verbally attacking them. Jesus intervenes and heals the child, then takes the disciples aside privately. No doubt the disciples are embarrassed and saddened at their failure, and ask Jesus what went wrong. He replies that “This kind (of illness) can come out by nothing except prayer.” No matter how well trained, how gifted, how experienced, or how well intentioned we are, our ability to overcome struggles, temptations, and evil all rely on God’s strength, not our own. Prayer connects us to God, and allows God to heal through us in ways that are impossible otherwise. This incident, directly following the transfiguration, should have made crystal clear to the apostles the difference between human beings and The One True God. It should do the same for us.
Our reading begins with the disciples alone with Jesus, walking through Galilee toward Jerusalem. For the 2nd time, he says, “The Son of Man is being delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day.” The statement, a repeat of what we heard last week, is delivered in the third person. Jesus does not say “I” but by the title of “The Son of Man”, stressing his divinity, and making clear this is a true prophecy of a divine event. This is not a magic show contrived by a man. This teaching draws in all that the disciples have watched, heard, and participated in over the last few weeks. Like us, they struggle with the intense needs of the people around them, their own desires to control what happens in the future, the (somewhat selfish) pride they feel from being in the center of attention as they travel with Jesus, and the fear they experience as the Temple leaders threaten them and the very life of Jesus. If Jesus will be killed, what will happen to them? Jesus has told them to “Take up their cross”, and follow in his foot steps. They were afraid to ask, probably because they were afraid to know.
Their response is very human. Their fears become anger, and in their anger they try to grasp power. It’s an attempt to deny that they are not in control of the situation. I strongly expect their emotions were obvious, for on arrival in Capernaum, Jesus asks, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?” Embarrassed by his question, they realize their big posturing and proud words were really just cover for their feelings of fear and inadequacy. It’s something that frightened people do, regardless of age. It’s why politicians and salesmen tell you that you are in harm’s way and that something terrible will happen if you don’t buy their product or vote for them. Fear is a very old way to control people who have not listened to wise teaching and/or searched out facts. So now Jesus has their attention, and he teaches the facts that will remove their fear.
How can we say this in modern language? If you want to be a leader, your concern must not be centered on yourself. Your attention must be on the people around you. Instead of striving for wealth and possessions, you must use wealth to see that others have what they need. You must use your influence and position to ensure others are treated with compassion. Grasping power and status will not calm your fears. Instead, ease the fears of others with truth and transparency and wisdom. Reach out to the “children” of the world – people with physical and emotional problems which limit their chance to gain employment, safe and decent housing, and access adequate education and training. Mentor those people who do not have support from their families, those who have lived with fear and bullying, abuse and neglect, those isolated in prisons and institutions. Treat those who are considered the “least” in our society as the most valuable, uncover the value of those people which awaits underneath the pain of their past. In doing this, you will find not only your own value, but you will find God.
How to do this? We don’t need to just talk about it, but actually do it. Let’s start by getting more information from St. Timothy on their many existing outreach programs. Many programs need time more than they need money. It is what Jesus asked us to do. It will be rewarding to work with other Christians who share our goals. It will bring us closer to God. Why not?