Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Wisdom 2:12, 17-20
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 54:3-6, 8
Second Reading: Letter of St. James 3:16-4:3
Gospel: According to St. Mark 9:30-37
There was at the time of the life of Jesus much anticipation in the Jewish community of a coming Messiah. A Messiah, or in the Greek “Christ,” was one who was anointed as God’s own. Since the belief was that this Messiah would come from the line of David, it was logical to believe that this Anointed One would have all of the characteristics that David had and would have them in abundance.
Someone who was a great political, military and religious leader would be the only worthy candidate to fill the shoes of the almost mythical King David. So we can understand the desire of each Apostle to claim his spot closest to this Messiah. Who would not want to be seen as one of the essential and most important followers of this inheritor to the mantle of King David?
Jesus understands this very human desire to be seen as important, to be seen as special. Every one of us wants to be singled out from the crowd for our talents and accomplishments. Every one of us wants to feel important.
In an episode of The Office, Jim Halpert has gotten off on the wrong foot with the new boss, Charles Miner. One day at lunchtime Charles notices Jim eating a salad at his desk. Charles stops to make small talk with Jim about the salad. Jim talks about where the salad came from, about the fresh ingredients and about how it is a good value for the money. Charles reacts positively to Jim’s salad-related insights and walks into his office. Jim, in one of the show’s patented ‘talking head’ moments, asks aloud, “Why does it matter so much that the boss liked my salad?”
It’s not that the salad mattered to Charles, but that through the salad Jim mattered to Charles. A small thing, but indicative of the core desire in each of us to matter to someone.
Jesus takes this innate human longing and presents it to His Apostles in a way that moves the Apostles from self-interest to selfless concern for others.
“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”
Every child wants to be received and to be valued by someone else. Also, no matter how old any of us is, we are all still children – both of our parents and of God. Jesus is calling the Apostles to give of themselves to God’s children so that they will feel loved, cared for, important – so that they will feel like their lives matter. Jesus lets His followers – then and now – know that in order to be the greatest of disciples one must forget oneself and concentrate on others.
Happiness, what we all want in life, is as elusive as the desires of Tantalus in the old Greek myth. Tantalus was punished by Zeus by being placed in knee-high water beneath a tree with low-hanging fruit. Whenever Tantalus reached up to grab a piece of fruit the branch would move just out of reach. Whenever he bent over to take a drink the water level would recede below his reach. To pursue happiness is to be always chasing a quest that will never be fulfilled.
Jesus does not offer us happiness through the worldly means that have been pursued for millennia without satisfaction. He is not a military or political leader, nor a religious leader in the mode of the high priests and scribes. He is a leader Who offers us happiness through what the world sees as weakness – through humility.
This humility can take many forms, but it always finds its roots in the Gospel and the ultimate humility of Christ on the cross. It was on the cross that Jesus, humbly obeying His Father, put His arms out to embrace all of His brothers and sisters, all of His Father’s children. In His weakness He showed true strength, and in His suffering He brought forth true happiness.
On the cross He offered Himself up for all, without reservation or condition. If we can offer ourselves to a child of God who is the least of our brothers or sisters (no matter what the word ‘least’ means in any particular situation) without reservation or condition, then we can count ourselves among the greatest of the followers of Jesus. And there, in that humble Christ-like love, is the home of true happiness.