HOMILY: MARK 9: 30-37 

THE APOSTLES WERE ARGUING ABOUT WHO WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT.   Rightly to appreciate the significance of this passage in St. Mark’s gospel we do well to recall the context in which he presents it. Jesus had just predicted to his disciples thaat he was to be handed over to he authorities, killed by them and would then rise on the third day. Mark adds that the disciples did not grasp what this meant yet they feared to ask for further clarification from the Lord concerning it. Instead, it seems, they got into a conversation about a more comfortable topic, namely, rank and precedence. This sequence heightens the irony of this exchange. While the Lord gives out a warning that heavy suffering awaits him, his close followers respond by arguing about rank.  Even while they were carrying on this discussion they seem to have felt some qualms of conscience for when our Lord asked they remained silent for they were ashamed to tell him they had spoken of being first among themselves. Jesus felt this was the time to make a point that he considered fundamental to his teaching. He understood well that before his disciples could accept the doctrine of the cross they needed to grasp the lesson of humility and of trust. And so, according to St. Mark, Jesus’ teaching on the need to become as a little child and so renounce worldly ambition must be grasped before his disciple might understand in any effective way the meaning of the cross and death of our Lord. 

That is only part of the message of this text, important as it is. More significantly we are able to discern in this event something of the center of Jesus’ personality, the depths from which he habitually acted. By displaying Jesus giving this lesson to his disciples of loving regard for a simple child, considered to be insignificant in the eyes of men of the world, precisely at the time he is on his way to Jerusalem to suffer and die in fulfillment of the Father’s will, Mark gives a glimpse into the innermost heart of Jesus. Here we can discern the warm humanity of our Lord who, even as he confronts suffering and death affirms the definitive value and dignity of life as embodied in this little child. His doctrine of childlike trust is presented as being in favor of the life-affirming hope that loving care for children represents.  

It is a false notion of humility to understand it as opposed to human development and the cultivation of the gifts of God implanted in the nature that comes from his hand. Truly to live is to give ourself to the author of life in loving trust, meeting the challenges encountered in carrying out the work assigned us by the gifts of nature and of grace. For humility renounces the struggle to get ahead of others and dominate them. It does not renounce or avoid the responsibility to honor and serve God and man by developing and using one’s s gifts. It can require more childlike trust to exercise authority in dependence upon God’s grace and guidance than to submit to others, as the example of Jesus himself shows. For he taught elsewhere that “You call me Master, and you do well, for so I am’, and yet he was always obedient, as he added ‘I always do what pleases the Father’. 

It is because of his own simple trust in his Father’s love that Jesus can speak of becoming as a child at the time when he directs his steps toward Jerusalem where he will fulfill the Father’s plan by dying on the cross. The day will come for each one of us when we too must face suffering and the loss of loved ones and death itself. We shall then choose either the self-giving that is total trust in God’s love and care for us and enter into true life or we shall lose all. For where God our infinitely loving and wise Father abides in glory only those who have the dispositions of children are admitted to his presence.  Only those who live in confident, loving and courageous trust can honor God as their Father and witness to him as the author of life and the pattern of truth. May the grace of the Eucharist we receive obtain for us all an increase of this true life of the children of God into which Jesus introduces us by his word, by the example of his filial fidelity and by the gift of the Holy Spirit by whose action we become in all truth children of God.

  Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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