Wisdom 2:12, 17-30, James 3:16 – 4:3, Mark 9:30-37
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
There is a clear focus in today’s first reading and in the Gospel on the necessity for humility and service in those who claim to be followers of God. These qualities are important in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus. Such qualities are important in the ordained priests of the Church as well as in all Christians who strive to proclaim the Good News to others.
When we look at the history of religions, we too often find that those who proclaim the goodness of a religion also use that religion to control and manipulate others. In our Roman Catholic faith, the Second Vatican Council was an attempt to bring about in the Church a deeper sense of being a servant of God and a servant of people.
The first reading, from the Book of Wisdom, is trying to describe how a model good person lives under persecution or under attack from others. The description is given from the side of those who want to destroy such a model
believer. They see this “just one” as obnoxious because he expects them to follow the law and to be faithful to the disciplines of their training. These people who want to destroy the just one are well aware that God will defend such a person and even deliver such a person. They just do not realize how such a vindication might come about.
They want to test the gentleness and patience of the just one. Probably many of us know how irritating the gentleness and patience of others can be when they do not want to cooperate with what we want!! This Book of Wisdom simply takes this reality and shows us that it can bring about even a desire to put to death such a person.
In the Gospel, Jesus is shown to us as He recognizes that others want to put him to death. He predicts the passion that he will suffer. This awareness of His own suffering is used as a teaching to His followers that they also must learn to suffer in order to serve others. If there is any desire to be “the first” in a community, then that desire must be transformed into service of others.
Surely as we pray these readings and strive to understand what God may be asking of us through them, we need to become aware of any tendencies in ourselves to dominate others. “Being first” means being ahead of the others. Jesus proclaims that the only way to live in the community of His followers is by learning to serve others. Thus, being first is really being last and those who are already last are really first.
This ideal of service still often eludes those of us in the Church who have positions of authority and leadership. We can get so used to being treated specially and to having others defer to us that we sort of think that this is a necessary way of keeping the Church in order. When we encounter men or women in the Church leadership who only serve, we are often astounded.
Today, as we celebrate Eucharist together, let us ask that our hearts may be converted and that all of us may strive to serve one another in Christ Jesus. If we can all become servants, the world will be transformed.