St. Luke’s ninth chapter is filled with familiar and important stories. Then the chapter ends with a disappointing surprise, at least for Jesus. First there is the missioning of the twelve. Then the multiplication of loaves, and then the intimate sharing with Peter in his “confession” – that Jesus indeed is the Messiah. This is followed by Jesus’ prediction of his own passion and death and his entry into the Kingdom of God.
Then two more stories follow: the uplifting transfiguration and then a cure of a demoniac. All this is followed by yet another prophecy by Jesus of his passion and death. (In our liturgical readings this past week we have read only the two episodes when Jesus is telling his disciples that he will suffer and die.) After all this in chapter nine St. Luke then gives us the surprising and disappointing story which we read in today’s gospel.
The ambition and vanity of the twelve is shown because the disciples wanted to be known as the greatest among themselves in the Kingdom of God. Jesus responds by simply placing a young child in their midst to show them and humble them: “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me … the least among all of you is the one who is the greatest!”
How do we apply to ourselves this surprising bit of blind ambition by the twelve coupled with Jesus’ simple response of humility? After all these uplifting stories in Luke, chapter nine, why do the twelve show such selfishness and pettiness?
Well, we all need to examine our own consciousness, don’t we? We also like to be highly esteemed, to be powerful, to be in complete control of our own destiny. But we also as Christians profess “to take up our cross and follow Jesus.” Many times we are tested to be selfish but we must respond and follow Jesus by following his example: by being understanding, tolerant, loving, fair, non-judgmental with all whom we meet.
Doing this is not so easy and that is the “cross” that we are asked to take up as we follow Jesus. We so easily gossip about others, hold grudges for long times, and are unforgiving even as we call upon the Lord to forgive us again and again. He does this because he loves us but we don’t forgive others because we lack this love for others.
Above all we should have faith and trust in Jesus that in spite of all our poor efforts to follow him, he still will save us so that our hoped-for goal of union in love with him in his Kingdom will be fulfilled. But whatever position we happen to receive when we finally get to heaven is certainly a gift from God that we certainly don’t deserve but gladly accept.
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