September 23, 2018
Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi
“What were you arguing about along the way?” (Mark 9:33 ) Jesus’ question is met by silence, because the disciples have been arguing about who is the greatest. But now, under the loving yet challenging gaze of Jesus, it all seems so foolish. What can James or Peter or Andrew or Matthew say?
Jesus has been teaching them that dying to one’s selfish inclinations is the way to life, that the way to a more abundant life is to turn away from self-centeredness and live for others. They’ve spent the whole day focusing on self and who is the most important. How could they have wasted so much time or been so foolish?
In Jesus’ presence we see so clearly how putting “me first” is not His way nor the way to follow Him. When we pray, which is simply being conscious of Jesus’ presence and entering into a conversation with him, we discover that we are passionate about things which are not of lasting value. That in our desire to be right all the time, we hurt others.
Each day we are invited to answer the question Jesus poses to us as we walk along the way of discipleship with Him. What were you arguing about with your spouse? Your response could be: Oh, how foolish I was. How selfish I am, thinking my needs are more important than my spouse, that I am more important. What were you arguing about with one of your friends? Oh, how foolish I was, how self-centered, trying to prove the superiority of my position. What were you arguing about with your co-worker? Well, my coworker is of a different political persuasion than I, but I showed her and cut her down a notch or two. But how foolish I am, lording myself over her and making her feel so small.
Three times in the very center of Mark’s Gospel Jesus tells his disciples that he will suffer, die and rise, and each time they don’t get it. So, each time he uses their “misunderstanding” as an opening to teach them even more clearly what it means to follow him along the way of the cross. Today’s teaching follows the 2nd prediction of his Passion along the way to Jerusalem. His teaching—the greatest among you will be the servant of all. Not just by serving a few select people, but by being a servant to all people.
In Jesus’ 3rd prediction of His Passion in Chapter 10, it’s as if James and John don’t even hear what he says, because they ask for the best seats in His Kingdom, and then the others get upset at the brothers for doing so. So, Jesus teaches them again that in his Kingdom it is not about glory and honor and making one’s importance felt, but about service, using himself as an example, Jesus refers to himself as Son of Man, his favorite title for himself, as he states: “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45 ).
He will reinforce this teaching at the Last Supper, getting on his knees to wash their dirty, stinking feet.
Just like those first followers of Jesus, we struggle to hear his words and to remember his example of life-giving service. Instead of washing feet we are tempted to take the opposite perspective, to stand over others, to look down on others from our perch of self-righteous judgment. From this perspective, we see ourselves as better, as more important, as being always in the right.
Getting down on our knees to wash others feet gifts us with a totally different perspective. We have to look up at others, and as we do so, we realize we are not better than them, more important than them. Rather we see what we share in common—that all of us have feet that sweat and stink because that’s part of the human condition. From the vantage point of service, we see that we are all human beings.
In fact, from the perspective of being a servant to others, we realize something even deeper, that we are all children of God.
One of the penances I often give to children when they come to Confession is to go home and ask their parents: “What can I do for you?” I picture their mom or dad, upon hearing this question, initially being speechless, their jaws dropping open in amazement.
This kind of attitude within a family—“What can I do for you”— transforms family life by building each other up and strengthening the life of the family. Those who used to be self-centered widen the circle of their concern to include the needs of other family members.
This kind of attitude also transforms the human family into being what it has been made to be—the family of God. When we daily ask of others, “What can I do for you?” there is no time nor energy for arguing about who is the most important.
Instead of judging people only on what they can do for us, we ask what we can do for them. Then our eyes are opened, and we see that we are serving Christ himself.