Almost every nation has election seasons. Right now in Louisiana we are in the height of one. On TV commercials, candidates spout out the usual slogans – the right to life, the family values, the safe neighborhoods, education. Each one is vying with the other in their appeal to what they think are the values and emotional drive of the wealthier and more influential members among their constituents. Those politicians who tout Christian values and pride themselves on their principles would do well to heed the words of James in today’s second reading: “Where jealously and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.” For it is nothing but a foul practice for most of them as they stoop to lies and slander in order to win a position of power.
Of course, it is not just the politicians that seek the power and places of honor. The Gospel reading from Mark raises the same question. Here were the disciples, those who were being taught personally by Jesus, falling into the same trap. Jesus had been teaching them about his suffering, death and resurrection. The Gospel passage is clear that they didn’t understand what Jesus was teaching. For some reason, they were afraid to ask. Perhaps they feared the truth of the reality. So their minds wandered from the message of Jesus to their own concerns and ambitions. It was easier to change the subject. Then it would appear that they were too embarrassed about their conversation to speak about it to Jesus.
Jesus knew the pitfalls of ambition and the dangers to which it would lead the disciples. So he presented another picture for them, one filled with contradiction according to the wisdom of human convention. So you want to be the first, well this is how you do it – be the last and the servant of all. There are not too many who list ‘servant’ among their ambitions and aspirations for life. Dr. Martin Luther King preaching on the drum major instinct refers to this message of Jesus and declared that everyone can be great, because everyone can serve.
Since Jesus knew that his disciples, then and now, had difficulty with understanding his message he demonstrated very clearly. He took a child, one of the least in his society, an almost non-person. He put this child right in the center of them all and pointed out that in accepting this least of all persons, one accepted Jesus and the one who sent him. We can conclude that in rejecting the least, we also reject Jesus and the one who sent him.
The more we ponder the message of the Gospel, the more we understand that Jesus established a reversal of order, an opposite perspective. His was and is a clear call to us that the face of God is found in the suffering, in the helpless child, in the worn and weary feet of the poor. Jesus also understands, that like the disciples, we often change the subject. Yet, he continues to show us in graphic ways what we are called to be – the least and the servant of all.
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP