A servant’s heart

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 20

Wisdom 2:12,17-20; Psalm 54:3-4,5,6,8; James 3:16 — 4:3; Mark 9:30-37

THIS WEEK’S Gospel is similar to last week’s story. Namely, Jesus predicts his death and resurrection, the disciples misunderstand, and Jesus teaches what it means to be a true disciple.

Jesus knows there is a plot to silence him. He knows it is a matter of time until he is to be killed. Jesus has no illusions about his destiny; he is on his way to the cross.

For the second time, Jesus predicts his impending death, trying to prepare and forewarn his disciples. However, the disciples once again do not grasp the meaning of Jesus’ words. Afraid to ask Jesus what he means, they begin arguing among themselves as to who is the greatest. Jesus is talking about suffering and dying and the disciples are talking about power and prestige!

PLACING A child among them, Jesus teaches the disciples they must be the servant of all. In Jesus’ day children were extremely vulnerable. They were considered to be on the lowest rung of the social ladder. Minor children did not have rights and were basically equal to slaves, the least in their culture.

Parents loved and cared for their children just as we do today; but in the hierarchal society of first century Palestine, children started at the bottom and worked their way up through adulthood to a higher social status.

The disciples would have been shocked by Jesus’ teaching that discipleship was equal to the same social status as a child. They were just arguing about who was the greatest! Jesus gives the disciples a reality check that to be a disciple means to serve the poorest among us with little hope for grandiose claims to fame and fortune.

Jesus’ suffering and death is not in the disciples’ plans — they want him to be prestigious, successful and powerful, thereby receiving honor and tribute through their association as disciples of Jesus.

SOUND FAMILIAR? How often do we hear someone grumble about their lack of recognition in our families, workplaces, and church communities? Ambition, pride, greed, power and control can rear their ugly heads even in the most sacred of circumstances. We fall into the same trap as the disciples.

But Jesus teaches his disciples and us that the true path to greatness is by serving the most vulnerable in our society and to do so without expectation of greatness.

Scripture repeatedly teaches us that God’s reign is not centered in wealth, prestige or possessions, but in hearts, minds and relationships that are prepared to serve. When we receive and serve one another, we draw closer to Jesus. When we draw closer to Jesus, we draw closer to God.

Barbara Roedel is the pastoral associate at St. Pius X Parish in Rock Island.

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