25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 23, 2012)
Wis 2:12, 17-20
Today’s Gospel reading from the 9th Chapter of Mark is one of those passages where I just want to shake my head and say, “really?”
Here’s what I mean. By this point in Mark’s Gospel Jesus has already cured a demoniac, cured Simon’s mother-in-law which lead to countless other healings when word got out, cleansed a leper, healed a paralytic after his friends literally tore open a roof top so they could lower him into a crowded house where Jesus was preaching, made a man’s withered hand normal again, calmed a storm at sea, drove another demon named Legion out of a man who was so strong not even chains could hold him down, cured a woman who was suffering from hemorrhages for 12 years, fed 5,000 men with only 5 loaves of bread and two fish, walked on water, healed a deaf man, fed another 4,000 men with 7 loaves of bread and a few fish (apparently this group was a little more hungry than the first group), Jesus then returned vision to a blind man by rubbing his spit in the man’s eyes and finally was transfigured on a mountain top in the presence of the Apostles Peter, James and John. One would think that anyone who witnessed these incredible events would realize they were in the presence of greatness!
That brings us up to the Gospel passage for today. In it, Jesus explains to the Apostles that he will be handed over to be killed, but will rise from death three days later. To which the Apostles looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders and said:
“I have no idea what this guy is talking about.”
“Why don’t you ask him what he means?”
“I’m not asking him, you ask him.”
“No you do it, I don’t want to make him mad.”
“Just forget it. What’s really important is that we all understand that I’m the greatest Apostle here anyway.”
“No, I’m greater than you!”
“Oh yea, how many demons have you driven out because I’m up around 25.”
“Well I was the one who helped pass out all of that bread the other day, remember? There were at least 5,000 people there!”
And on, and on, and on… Then comes the awkward moment. Jesus turns to them and asks, “soooooooo, what were you guys arguing about back there?” You can almost hear the crickets in the background as they realize they were just busted.
Why do we do this? This is not a phenomenon unique to Jesus’ time. Sometimes, we let our own pride get in the way of our mission. It’s like we make a checklist for the week to make sure we cover our minimum duties and are ready to pull it out to prove we are better than “that guy over there” because at least we did this stuff! Sunday Mass, check. Prayed before meals, check. Said my Rosary, well one decade, so half a check. Put some money in the collection basket, check.
But the real questions are these: Were you actively paying attention during Mass? Did you really put your heart and mind into your prayers and have a deep conversation with God? Did you make a prayerful contribution to the collection basket or just throw in a few bucks? Did you ask God what His will is for your life? What about the other six days of the week? Being Catholic is not about checking boxes off a list and doing the bare minimum. It’s about having faith in Jesus Christ and His Church and showing that faith in our daily actions. It’s about service to God and His people. What God-given talents are you using to help promote the Gospel? How much time are you giving back to God?
Jesus knew what the Apostles were arguing about that day. He could have easily just walked up to them and asked, “have you not been paying attention? Have you not seen all of the charitable deeds I have been doing? Do you really still not know who I am?” Instead he tried to refocus their minds and basically said, “You want to be the greatest? Then go serve others. Make yourself less so that others can be elevated. And while you’re serving, serve like a child because a child loves unconditionally. A child represents innocence and doesn’t get caught up in prideful ways like some adults. They are pure of heart. They have not yet been corrupted by the world.”
This really clicked for me a few years ago. Angie (my wife) and I went to our first Christian rock concert up in Lexington and saw Jeremy Camp. We were sitting there enjoying the music, when the gentleman next to me raised one of his hands during a song. I didn’t know if he was trying to ask a question or was waving at someone. Then he slowly raised the other hand and stood up. So both arms up, eyes toward the ceiling and slowly swaying back and forth. Feeling very uncomfortable, I leaned towards Angie and asked, “what’s the deal with him?”
It wasn’t until I read something from St. Therese of Lisieux a few years later that it dawned on me what was going on. St. Therese described her faith like that of a child. She said this because she never considered herself great or mighty but yet she always had unconditional love for her Father in heaven no matter what life sent her way. Then she described what I witnessed at that concert. What happens when a child raises their arms up to their father in love? The father’s heart melts and he has no choice but to reach down and pick up the child. And he doesn’t just lift the child up, but will often raise them up over his head, higher than anyone else standing near by as he gazes into their eyes with pure love. The man beside me was caught up in the prayerfulness of the music and was worshiping God like a little child, with arms raised. This is what Jesus was trying to get the Apostles to understand. We need to be a servant to others and remain pure of heart like a child. Perform acts of kindness because it’s right, not so we can brag about our good deeds to others. Serve the poor, help those less fortunate, protect those that can’t protect themselves, donate money to a good cause and let your good actions influence others to do the same. If you do this and have pure intentions like a child, then we can confidently raise our hands up to our Father in heaven and He will lift us up out of the depths, dirt and grunge of this place and elevate us above the world to be united with Him in our heavenly home.