Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Blessed Sacrament
The second part of Mark’s Gospel begins with events that occur as Jesus and his disciples are on a journey that will take them from northern Israel to Jerusalem where the climactic event of Christ’s death and resurrection will take place. The evangelist knows, of course that this is where the journey will end, and he prepares his readers for it by placing at strategic points the three sayings in which Jesus predicts his suffering and vindication by God.
Each of them is met by incomprehension on the part of the disciples. Last week we heard Peter rebuke Jesus and Jesus in turn rebuke Peter for placing a stumbling-block in his way. In today’s Gospel the prediction is again met by incomprehension, illustrated now by the quarreling among the disciples about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom that Jesus has been announcing. He must stop and instruct them once again in order to declare what being first in the Kingdom means: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” The child whom he embraces is an example of those little ones whom they must serve.
The attitude that Jesus is condemning here is the one that the apostle James speaks of as “jealousy and selfish ambition.”St. Augustine regarded the “libido dominandi” as one of the identifying marks of the city of man to which he contrasted the City of God, just as Jesus had when he said that authority among the disciples must not be exercised in the way it is by those powerful in the world. Something of this was carried on by St. Gregory the Great who said that the office of bishop should be conferred only on those who don’t want it, while those who seek it should be refused, a rule hardly followed scrupulously in our Church.
In these, as in much else of the Christian life, Christ himself is the model, he who came “not to be served, but to serve and lay down his life for the many.” It is out of the humility, obedience and service, manifest through his suffering and death, that we Christians are born. We owe our Christian lives to this self-giving, and we contradict the very essence of our Christian being if we try to put ourselves forward, wishing to be served rather than to serve.
It is a countercultural demand that we hear today, so focused is our society on success, measured by having more wealth, more power, more beauty, more athletic ability, measured by one’s becoming No. 1, the first, the greatest. The Church–and by that I mean the Christian people, you and me–ought to be a counter-sign that reminds people of what Jesus said it means to be first: it means to be at the service of others, to have uncentered one’s life on oneself, and centered it upon others, on the millions of our fellow human beings, here and elsewhere, who are in need.
This decentering, and not some voluntary pious penances, this decentering is the most basic decision we need to take if we are to imitate Jesus. Here is where we encounter the cross that, as we heard him say last week, every one of us must take up if we wish to follow him on a journey that led him to the Cross. The power of that Cross was revealed in his resurrection, and we should have every confidence that self-forgetting service is not something negative but something positive, that it is not resentful death but joyful life, even now, for those who take up his challenge and respond to his call.