23 September 2018: 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: radical service to non-people

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary readings present stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to hear the call to service and its implications.

The first reading from the book of Wisdom describes a just man who is persecuted by the unrighteous because he follows God’s law. Because the just man is patient and gentle, the unrighteous condemn him to death. “If he is a son of God, God will deliver him,” they say. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because of its many parallels to Jesus’ second passion prediction in today’s gospel.

The second reading continues the letter of James. Although this letter is traditionally ascribed to James, who was executed in 62 AD, internal evidence indicates a different author wrote the letter between 90-100 AD. The letter is an exhortation that focuses on moral conduct. In today’s reading the author addresses faults that divide a believing community. He tells his hearers that when “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.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus again predicts his passion, death, and resurrection, and continues his teaching on discipleship.

  • Passion prediction. Jesus tells the disciples that “he will be handed over to the hands of people .” The Greek verb παραδίδωμι (pah-rah-DIH-doh-mee) means “to hand over” or “to give over.” Jesus’ uses the passive voice to suggest that God is the one handing Jesus over and that all is unfolding according to God’s plan. Jesus also says he “will rise.” Jesus uses the active voice to indicate he will again take up the divine power that he had set aside in service to God’s plan. The disciples fail to understand Jesus’ meaning.
  • Parable-in-action about discipleship. The disciples are so out of touch with Jesus’ passion prediction and his model of service that they debate about who is Jesus’ greatest disciple. Jesus realizes that his own model of service isn’t enough to get through to them; now he presents a child as a parable-in-action. In the ancient world, children were non-persons: they had no legal rights or social standing; they were totally dependent on others for nurture and protection. Kindness to children produced no material or social gain to adults. When Jesus embraces the child, he acknowledges and accepts the non-person. Disciples must become slaves to the least, the non-people, if they wish to have a place in the kingdom.

Today’s readings again challenge every disciple to reexamine his or her understanding of discipleship. Jesus’ own life of service, including rejection and death, is the model. It’s human nature to focus on discipleship’s end-state (being first in the kingdom), rather than the day-to-day work (being handed over to others). Jesus calls us to follow him, his words and his actions. If we want to be the greatest, we have to embrace non-people every day: those with no social power, with no economic power, who can’t help themselves, who can’t do anything for us. Are we handing ourselves over? Who deserves our service?

—Terence Sherlock


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