There is an important difference between last week’s prediction of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection and what appears in TODAY’S GOSPEL [MARK 9: 30 – 37]. Too often these subtle differences pass us by without being noticed. Last week we were told that “the Son of Man must suffer … be rejected … killed, and after three days rise again.” This week we are told that “the Son of man will be delivered …. .” The lesson Jesus began to teach was about a future event. However, today’s gospel reading takes us into the present. What now needs to be learnt concerns something which IS about to happen. {NOTE: In each of Matthew (17:22)and Luke (9:44) there is only one reference to this event. Both these evangelists refer to the immediate with the word ‘is’.} Mark is attempting to teach a lesson. The first prediction focuses on an essential event. The second, begins brining the same event into stark and present reality. There is no escape. Here we need to recall what we saw last week – the reality that our lives are medleys of ‘winters’ and ‘summers’. This is the reality of our lives in the present. It is impossible to avoid. However, the lesson itself makes clear that the dark and trying times of dreary winter days carry within them the reality of future summer freedom.

Is it not strange that we so often ignore what nature teaches so clearly? Look at those creatures which hibernate in winter. They understand that during the hard winter months, summer is being conceived and will become a reality. In addition they use the autumn months as a time to ensure that their winter living is not only protected, but will nurture renewed strength and vitality. In other words they are tuned into the realities of living – the dark and trying times of dreary winter days carry within them the reality of future summer freedom.

The disciples presented in today’s gospel reading continue in their refusal to even begin learning the lesson. This time around, it is not a question of remonstrating with Jesus but ignoring his lesson entirely. They pretended not to have heard (as we sometimes do). In fact they go one step further and have a discussion about their individual status – “who was the greatest?” How perverse, gross and somewhat grotesque they were!

Status and greatest – both include clear tones of influence, power and authority. All of this is essentially damaging to the Church and its mission. In addition they are real temptations for all Church members (bishops, priests, deacons and laity). Here our reflection needs to be all of realistic, practical and personal – clergy who become little dictators, and laity who compete to become the priest’s right-hand man or woman, Then, there are those who seek and / or claim to have real influence on pastoral or diocesan policy – and expect to be recognised as such and given due deference. They expect to be heard in silence and what is said must be accepted without question.
Of course theses sort of people usually ensure they have a small, loyal and vocal coterie of fans and supporters. They need a fan club. The Church has no room for this sort of false self-importance. It does need servant leaders who are, in different ways, at the service of Jesus Christ and the Gospel.

Who is the greatest? Jesus answers the question only after he has asked his own – “what were you discussing on the way?” It is not to the disciples credit that they made no answer – “but they were silent.” Marks are not given for a silence which is nothing more than embarrassment because one is seen to be out of step. “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” The real tragedy occurs when likelihood of a change in approach is negligible. Power, authority, status and influence are positions not abdicated easily or readily. As TODAY’S SECOND READING [JAMES 3: 16 – 4:3] tells us, a power / status approach introduces”disorder.” In contrast, James makes reference to the “wisdom that comes from above (and is) open to reason. “The disciples have their own view of what sort of person the Messiah should be – and a Servant is not a part of their image. This is surprising, because they should at least have heard of the vision outlined in our OLD TESTAMENT READING [WISDOM 2: 12.17 – 20]. We all need to ensure that our ministries and participation in the mission of the Gospel are, as Saint James points out, “peaceable … (does not) cause wars”, and is in the business of leadership. “They were afraid to ask him” our Gospel tells us. However, real leaders are never afraid either to ask or hear questions.

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