The “spiritual life” is our way of living with and not leaving behind the ups and yips of life. Our faith with all its rituals and prayers constantly assures us that we are not abandoned, but neither are we excused from attending each day of life’s classes.
As we yip and trip through these days, as we move from being sent by one Eucharistic liturgy toward the next, we can check in on whether we have checked out of those classes of the faithfulness of god or did we show up. Grace flowing from the sacraments is a gift to abide with the great gift of being alive for a while here on earth.
In our First Reading it would be easy enough to imagine a group of outlaws preparing to treat cruelly a particular man of virtue. It is easy also to project this as a prophesy concerning Jesus. It is in fact a verbal picture of a faithful Jewish person whom the Jewish author offers as a picture of how insulting the virtuous life is to others.
The final four verses of this chapter, (which are not presented in today’s readings) indicts the reasoning of the foreigners or outsiders. They do not have faith and hope in God’s promises and protection which support the faithful Jew at all times and in all circumstances. “They do not know the hidden things of God, they have no hope that holiness will be rewarded, they see no reward for blameless souls.”
This reading is from the Book of Wisdom which has various literary forms within it. What we have here is a boast of sarcasm. Throughout the book God is pictured as faithful during Israel’s history and especially during the hard times. The Jewish people are presented as called, challenged, cared-for and always God’s people. The virtuous Jew will be seen as poor and out-of-it as he trusts God. He will be tested and remain faithful.
Last Sunday’s Gospel recorded the “First Prediction of the Passion” in Mark’s narrative. Today we hear the second. Last week we heard Jesus’ rebuke of Peter who attempted to prevent Jesus from even thinking of it. Today the post-prediction story is quite different and yet a contrast for sure. Peter had understood well what Jesus was talking about. Here the disciples fail to get it. They continue walking and instead of questioning the meaning of what Jesus had spoken, they begin arguing about who would be the leader if Jesus were to actually be killed.
Jesus has just revealed an intuition about His future death and the disciples are planning on their future rankings. Then Jesus does something a bit strange. After reminding them about the role of a true follower by being servant, Jesus embraces a child as a visual aid. This has to be somehow united with the theme of His death and how a virtuous follower is to live.
Mark is presenting Jesus as a servant who is embracing His life, ending with His embracing of His cross and death. As easy as it is to welcome one little child into ones arms, a true follower of Jesus is to welcome the implications of that vocation. Jesus was available, welcoming and embracing of all the persons and events of His life including His welcoming of His death. The “child” becomes a convenient symbol of life and those who would be first of all, must let go of the importance of being first and so be last in the “ego-line”.
This past summer I spent a few days with my extended biological family, with young nieces and nephews! It was a joy to be with them and after a while, also to leave them with their parents. Here’s one story which I enjoyed. My three year-old grand-nephew ran to his father and complained that his little cousin wanted to take and play with his toy. His father told him that he himself had to “work it out” with his little cousin Lily. My nephew considered this “working out” for three seconds, turned to Lily and said, “This is mine and you can’t have it!” His mother turned to me and said, “That’s how men work things out I guess.”
I wonder how old the child was whom Jesus took into His arms.
The disciples and my niece’s son have a little in common; actually quite a bit. We also have a little in common with them as well. That ego-driven sense of self-priority is what Jesus is challenging. Where did my little Jakey obtain the sense that having things was making him better than Lily, who did not have. Lily had the same sense, but just then did not have the important toy. Blame it on Adam, parents, even perhaps grand-uncles? Jesus did not upbraide His followers. He knew what Jake’s parents knew that self is an energy as well as an identity. Jesus has been telling His disciples that He was being called to un-self, or surrender that self-energy even to the point of letting go of His life. Jesus welcomed the little-child within each of the disciples with all its self-centered preoccupations and tells the disciples that they have to do the same. If they are to be followers of Jesus they will have to face the constancy and hunger of the self. They then will be freer to follow Him through His Passion and Resurrection to their becoming servants.
Ultimately, Jesus is chiefly speaking of Himself throughout this passage. He is serving the disciples and the world by not allowing His self-energy to move Him to be first. He is guided to deny Himself, take up His cross and not say, “This is mine and you can’t have it.” He declares “My life is mine and you can have it to the full.”
“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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