The 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Mark 9:30-37
Throughout Mark’s Gospel, the disciples remain at about the same level of understanding, or lack thereof. It was partly because they were afraid to ask.
But I think it was partly because their burning question was not, “How can I better understand and live out Jesus’ identity and mission?”, but rather, “How can I be the greatest?”
What if lack of prayer led to lack of understanding and fear of asking for help? We may not understand the mystery of prayer, what it does and how it does it, but we all know what happens when we don’t pray. We all know that not praying leads to a cycle of scattered thoughts, bad decisions and actions we later regret. This seems to be what happened to the disciples in this text. In the text from 8:27-38, we saw how Peter’s rebuke instigated Jesus’ teaching about the way of the cross. Here again, the disciples’ mistaken priorities call forth a clear teaching from Jesus. This time it is about who is greatest. In looking at the text, it seems to me that the disciples’ argument has four roots:
- fear that they have fallen in Jesus’estimation (9:19)
- insecurity at their failure to heal the boy (9:29)
- resentment toward one another as Jesus chastises them
- eagerness to compete to regain his approval
Their focus on their reputations, a priority each of them held inside, comes to the surface in an argument over who was the greatest that would make them all look small (9:33-37). It turns out that to be great is not to impress crowds with displays of healing, or to try to become the teacher’s pet of a Teacher who refuses to play favorites.
I’ve heard sermons on this text that make the point we have to become children to be great. They conclude by encouraging us to focus on our inward lives, on becoming more pure, more innocent, more humble, more spontaneous, more trusting.
It turns out that to be great is to be focused on something quite other than oneself. It turns out that greatness lies in welcoming one who is not viewed as great by the culture, the child, the one who is beyond the circle, who needs a welcome. So here is the final “What if?” question. What if we actually did that?