20 September 2015: Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Wis 2:12, 17-20 Ps 54:3-4, 5, 6 and 8 Jas 3:16-4:3 Mk 9:30-37

Discipleship: welcoming the nowhere man

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we continue reading about discipleship.

The first reading is from the Book of Wisdom. An unknown Greek-speaking Jew from Alexandria wrote this book between 100-28 BC. The early Christians understood the “just one” or “righteous one” as Jesus, and these themes appear throughout the passion narratives. The Lectionary pairs this reading with today’s gospel prediction of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection.

The second reading continues James’ letter. Today’s reading is part of a larger section (Jas 3:1-5-6) in which the author addresses faults that divide a believing community. He tells his hearers that where “malice and factions exist in a believing community, disorder follows.” Passions (literally “selfish pleasures”) cause strife and fights. The author urges the practice of “wisdom,” which leads to peace in the ekklesia.

Mark’s gospel finds Jesus and the disciples journeying to Jerusalem. Mark repeats the phrase “on the way” twice in today’s reading. The phrase means not only a physical journey, but a disciple’s path to understanding. Mark uses “the way” to remind readers about the choices of discipleship. Today Jesus predicts his passion, death, and resurrection a second time. The disciples “were not understanding” and “were afraid to ask.” Instead they argue about who among them is “the first.” The disciples again show that they are not hearing Jesus’ message. Jesus tries to shift their vision: “to be first, you must be the least, and the servant of all.” To demonstrate his teaching, Jesus places a child in their midst. We might interpret Jesus’ words and actions toward the child as sentimental and passively protective. First-century disciples would hear Jesus’ teaching very differently–in the ancient world, a child was legally and socially a nobody, a non-person without rights. The gospel uses the Greek word παιδίον, which can mean “child,” “servant,” or “slave.” By “putting his arms around” the child, Jesus literally embraces the non-person. He teaches and shows the disciples “when you welcome and accept the lowest one, the helpless one, the inconsequential one, you welcome and accept me.” To further drive home his teaching, Jesus adds, “You welcome and accept not only me, but also the one who sent me.” That is, the disciple’s treatment of a non-person is the measure of that disciple’s treatment of God.

The RCIA process encourages candidates and especially catechumens to think about discipleship. Under the best conditions (“who will be first in the kingdom”), discipleship isn’t easy (“take care of the unwanted immigrant”). Under the worst conditions (“you’ll be handed over and killed”), discipleship can break our faith (“they were afraid”). Discipleship doesn’t have an autopilot setting: it’s a path filled with daily decisions–faction or fellowship, selfish pleasures or service–that only we can make. Are we listening to Jesus’ great teachings, or are we worried only about our own greatness?

—Terence Sherlock

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