We continue praying with our experiences of trying to be virtuous. Each day, each moment has its call to attentiveness, receptiveness, and generosity. The more we desire virtue the less we seem to live it, and act it out consistently.
Perhaps the virtue for which we are invited to pray, is patient self-compassion. Awareness, acceptance, and donation or generosity are steps toward living virtuously, but it involves some self-dying and relying more on God’s grace. We pray these days to be more honest about our virtues and the courage to reveal the goodness of God to us, through us.
We are listening in the First reading from the early chapters of the Book of Wisdom. The first chapter sets up the tensions between the virtuous person and the wicked. The last verse of that chapter introduces a group, whom the author knows to be the Jewish people who do not follow God’s laws as well as all those other nations who oppress Israel.
These are seen as enemies of virtue and those who set themselves against, not just one single virtuous man, but against the nation Israel as well, are “wicked”. It is not a prediction of how Jesus will be arrested and dealt with, but an announcement that Israel’s orientation in living God’s ways, will be met with violence by those inside and out of the Covenant-community who choose death rather than life. The writer personifies Israel as a “just one” whose ways insult those who are “wicked”. Israel, as the “just one” will have their faith in the caring-God tested. For Israel, faith in God is true wisdom.
The Gospel continues last-Sunday’s theme of Jesus’ being the Christ Who will be handed over, suffer and die and then rise. This week we see the apostles’ not understanding this and afraid to ask. So they revert to their being more concerned about themselves and their own futures. On their walking toward Capernaum the apostles had been discussing a quite-human topic, who was the greatest and who would be number “one”. We just have to pause here with the tenderness and acceptance which Jesus shows His friends. This is a little more about being His followers.
The “first” will be the last, in some sense, and the greatest will be the servant of the others. Obviously Jesus is speaking of His life and death in this spirit of His being a Servant and considered the last, the loser. Jesus ends this discussion with somewhat of a strange comparison.
He embraces a small child and talks about those who would receive such a little child without being frightened, with tenderness and love. The apostles and Mark’s readers are invited by this image to receive Jesus and all He is and teaches, as one would do by hugging a child. It is a quite strong image of how to accept such teachings as being “last” and being a “servant” of all. As Jesus embraced the little child, so are we to embrace Jesus and the One Who sent Him. We are invited to love God by living as “servants” of others, at least in spirit and hopefully in act.
Shakespeare wrote in his play Julius Caesar, that the evil we do lives after, but the good is buried with our bones. The good that Jesus did and tried to do was buried with His bones, but rose in glory and in the beauty of human beings who try to live His ways. The evil we may do or have done lives on in our memories perhaps, but is the direct object of Jesus’ saving-death as the virtuous servant. The good we do in Christ lives on in the smallest ways we extend His servanthood.
Servanting is more than a string of good deeds; it is a way of looking at ourselves and at others. It is a way of life rather than a way of choosing the wheres and whens. So far today, I have done some servinglly things. Modesty alone prevents me from listing them all, not certainly, the length of the list. I am rested today, have eaten healthy things, my teams are winning, and this Reflection is almost complete. I have moods which determine often how I look at myself and those others around me. I cannot predict how well if at all, I will be a servant later today or tomorrow. What I do know is that if I allow Jesus to serve me in prayer, in my attitudes, how I look at myself, then His ways will not be buried in my bones, but will rise through a served-spirit.
A servant does know what the master is about. Jesus is about serving His sisters and brothers, in season and out. We might be suspected, challenged or even resisted for the good we do. I wish to serve whether it is received well or at all. I love being thanked and appreciated and tend to doubt my intensions when I am not. I would love it if all my virtuous acts were captured on film as shining examples of the “Just One”. I am just one person, all right and I am not always in my servant-style.
The closer we draw to Jesus and His ways, the farther it seems we drift. It is then that He is the tender and compassionate Jesus who embraces his faulty apostles as He does the little child. We will persevere as servants when we can face the self-serving times when we are asking and perhaps demanding our being the greatest. My younger brother was training up for a marathon, but found himself in one particular race, so far behind that he could not see the runners ahead of him. Some kind folks along the sidewalk shouted some encouraging words to him. He responded, “Am I still in the lead?” We do love knowing how we’re doing and how does God see us, how do others see us. The good Jesus does is buried in our bones and what He does through us is more precious than the how we or others think we are doing.
“You have laid down your precepts to be faithfully kept. May my footsteps be firm in keeping your commands.” Ps. 119 4-5
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