23 September 2018
Wisdom 2:12, 17 – 20
James 3:16 – 4.3
Mark 9.30 – 37
When working in Philippines I met a man who was introduced to me as Architect Chambo. After that I met many different people. Some were called Engineer X or Accountant Y. Nearly all the others who were ordinary workers were introduced simply by their names without any title. In that country the title obviously meant a lot to most of these people. It would have given them a certain status. They certainly would have been seen as the important people in the society. Some would have expected preferential treatment. Sometimes they would call the unemployed to do menial jobs for them while paying them very little.
A lot of people tend to define and evaluate people in terms of the job they do. Hence, if they learn that a person is a doctor, their estimation of that person goes up. But in learning that a person is an ordinary worker their estimation stays earthbound. This is unfair and rather silly. There’s something more important than the job, namely the kind of human being behind the job.
The mistake that the apostles made was to put the job or position first. In their eyes the one who was greatest was the one who had the highest position. They obviously thought that Jesus would set up an earthly kingdom and so each wanted to get the top position in his kingdom. But Jesus told them that that his kingdom was not about seeking honour and glory for oneself, but about serving others. In fact, he was very direct when he told them: ‘if anyone wants to be first, they must make themselves last of all and servant of all’. Jesus was really saying in the gospel that it’s not what I do but what I am that is important. One’s self-worth should not depend on the work one does. It’s possible to possess an attitude of self-worth and accomplishment regardless of what one does for a living.
I remember hearing that in a certain office many years ago where there were 4 clerks and two typists, one of the typists asked the 4 clerks in turn to take a typewriter up to the next floor but each in turn refused saying it was a job for the office boy and not for them. They felt it was too menial a job for them. Obviously the felt that it would demean them in the sight of the others.
In the second reading we hear that wherever there is jealousy and ambition of the wrong kind there one finds disharmony and disunity and all kinds of harmful things being done. False ambition is very damaging to the unity of a community. It springs from jealousy and selfishness. And it can result in all kinds of ugly behaviour.
In the gospel today we heard of Jesus going through Galilee with his disciples instructing them. He was telling them that the Son of Man would be delivered into the hands of men; that they would put him to death and after three days he would rise again. But they did not want to hear that kind of talk. Their minds and ears were closed to it. Yet is not this a very human reaction? Are we much different ourselves? Very often we hear only what we want to hear. Which of us, indeed anyone, understands the mystery of suffering, of hurting, and dying? Especially when it involves the innocent. Even with our faith, even with the promise of rising from the dead, a rising which we believe has been fulfilled in Jesus it is good for us to be honest and say that many, perhaps most of us, still struggle why we have to suffer, especially some more than others. The writer C.S.Lewis wrote in his book The Problem of Pain “God whispers to us in our pleasure, speaks in our conscience but shouts in our pain”.
Today’s gospel reading makes us wonder what on earth possessed Jesus to chooses the ones he did to become his disciples? Self-seeking calculation had them quarrelling about which of them was the greatest. They are truly small time glory seekers. The scene is not edifying. They were driven by selfishness and false ambition. Jesus did not abolish ambition. Rather he defined it. For the ambition to rule others he substituted the ambition to serve others. Where do we stand in all of this? What kind of ambition motivates us?
We are still amazed at the kind of fragile and flawed human beings that Jesus chose to be his disciples. Before the resurrection they were generally of weak quality. Yet after the resurrection what an incredible change. They proclaim a most profound message and established a faith-community that has spread throughout the world down through the present day. Does it not show what is possible for each one of us if we call upon the Holy Spirit to help us?
Today we see the various people that God still calls to do his work. We don’t mean only priests and religious. What more precious task could be entrusted to a human being that bringing another into the world and introducing them to God? What of so many who look after ageing relatives, those who visit people in hospitals, prisons and those living alone who need help etc? Any humble loving service done for another is greatly appreciated and rewarded by God. It also allows us to do whatever we can to make the world a better place to live in.
“Lord Jesus, help us not to judge others by titles or by the money they earn etc. but to serve others in humble loving service as you did. When pain and suffering come our way, help us to trust that you will see us safely through the pains, sufferings and tragedies of life.”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA