Passion to Serve
By Archbishop Francesco Follo
Wis 2, 12.17-20; Ps 54; Jas 3.16 to 4.3; Mk 9, 30-37
1) On the way to Jerusalem.
Jesus is going to Jerusalem to live the paschal mystery of his death and resurrection. He knows that in Jerusalem he will meet death, and, on the way to the holy city, He prepares his disciples to this dramatic and upsetting event. For the second time (of the first we heard last Sunday) He tells them the he will be delivered into the hands of men who want to kill him, but he will conquer death resurrecting three days later.
The disciples did not understand the words of the Messiah so much so that once arrived in Capernaum they confessed to the Master that, along the way, they had argued about who was the greatest among them. In a way still amazing today the Savior tells them that the greatest is the one who serves and that the measure of God’s Kingdom is the welcome of the children “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me “(Mk 9:37 – The Gospel of St. Mark continues with other teachings that we will hear next Sunday). This teaching is well summarized by the prayer of today’s Mass “O God, Father of all men, you want that the last are the first and make a child the measure of your kingdom; grant us the wisdom that comes from high above to welcome the word of your Son and to understand that before you the greatest is the one who serves.”
The Gospel passage doesn’t consist of two parts juxtaposed, one regarding the announcement of the Passion of Christ and the other one the training of the disciples. It is a unique and coherent speech that we can name “The Cross of Jesus and its consequences for the disciple”. To become the servant and to welcome the children in his name are two behaviors that Jesus gently and decisively teaches his disciples and that must be “practiced” together. To practice these two behaviors is to imitate Christ, following him to the Cross as He did, and to be like Him servant of all. “If anyone wants to be first he shall be the last of all and the servant of all” (Mk 9:35).
From the day when the Son of God took flesh and entered our history, going a long way from the cradle of Bethlehem-which was a path of offering (= a way of the Cross) that culminated in the “cradle” of the Cross on Mount Calvary in Jerusalem- the criteria for judging the value of the human person and dignity have been radically overturned. The dignity of a person is not the place he occupies, the work he does, the things that he possesses, the fame he reaches. The greatness of man lies not in what of consequence he does, but in service to God and men for the manifestation of the glory, the goodness and the love of God.
The privileged way of this service is the welcome. St. Mark uses the word “welcome” on several occasions and with different nuances, but all somehow converge. The Evangelist speaks of hospitality for the missionary (6.11), the Word (4.20), the Kingdom (10:15), the children. To welcome means to listen, to make oneself available, and to accommodate the Infinite that has become a Child and the children that in the cradle reflect the sky. To welcome therefore means above all to let be “surprised” by the Word, by the missionary or by the children, and the ability to be at their service.
2) The charity of Passion
Today Jesus teaches placing in front of the disciples the sign of a child. He embraces it because it is his sign. He is the sign of the Father who sent Him and the child is a sign of God’s tenderness and of the filial obedience of His only child who for love became a Child and for obedience was crucify with the wrongdoers. It is a small child, but it is a sign of Him who is from God. The words he speaks (“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” Mk 9, 37) are loaded with great revelation. The child placed in the middle and embraced is at the same time the image of Christ, the image of the Christian and the image of God. To accept the child in the name of Christ is to receive the mystery of God.
Today’s Gospel is a strong teaching on the humanity of the Son of God. Jesus says that he is the Son of man. His death and resurrection are concrete and true things. And then there is that speech in the house when the Lord finds himself with his disciples, his “new” family, holy or better on the way to holiness. He does not rebuke them, but explains to them the new way of being the first: to welcome the child is to welcome him and the Father.
The disciples find it hard to understand that following Jesus means to deny oneself and take up his cross and they’re afraid. We also have fear to understand. Our not understanding is a not wanting to understand. That child embraced and put in the middle is the sign of the mystery of God who gives himself in the hands of man. The welcome of the “children” is the test of the authenticity of our service and our hospitality toward the Infinite who became a Child for us.
In passion we find love. No one has greater love than the one that was great and became small and gave his life for his friends going to the cross. It is the cross of the Lord in which we rejoice with the Apostle ”Of nothing says I will boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6:14). It is not just the cross made up of two pieces of wood, but it is man himself as St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote “Perhaps we are the cross in which Christ recalls of being nailed. A man, in fact, has the shape of a cross. And if he opens his hands, he expresses it very clearly. ”
It is on the cross that Jesus was born to Heaven and the Virgin Mary who had given birth without pain, the Mother of God,” gave Him Light” by agreeing to suffer much more than the pain of childbirth and accepting us as her children in her Son. This “Mater dolorosa” who stood firm under the cross is the Virgin of virgins, who follow her imitating her motherhood. These women by imitating Mary are mothers in spirit because of the complete gift of themselves to Christ.
In an eminent and unique way Mary gave her body and blood – that is, all her life – so that they might be the body and blood of the Son of God. The Virgin Mary was the mother in the fullest and most profound sense of the word: he gave her life to the Other, and ‘blended’ her life in him. She accepted the only true essence of all creatures and of all creation: to put the meaning and, therefore, the fullness of life in God. Mary’s virginity was fullness and totality of love. It was not a ‘ denial ‘ of love.
It is the totality of the gift of Mary to God and, therefore, the true expression, the true quality of his love. The Mother of God and our mother, showed and still shows that motherhood is the fulfillment of femininity because it is the fulfillment of love as obedience and response. It is in the offering that love gives life and becomes a source of life.
The joyful mystery of Mary’s motherhood is thus not opposed to the mystery of her virginity. It is the same mystery. She is not mother ‘in spite’ of her virginity. Indeed, this reveals the fullness of her motherhood because her virginity is the fullness of love. The consecrated Virgins testify that this motherhood is still possible, with simplicity, faith and devotion.
In fact, it is the fullness of love that accepts God’s coming to us, giving life to Him who is the life of the world. Let us appreciate, rejoice and recognize that the consecrated Virgins witness that the end and the fullness of all life and of all love is “to accept Christ” and give him life in us.
Mark 9, 30 – 37
Theophylact: It is after miracles that the Lord inserts a discourse concerning His Passion, lest it should be thought that He suffered because He could not help it.
Wherefore it is said, “And they departed thence, and passed through Galilee; and He would not that any man should know it. For He taught His disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill Him.”
Bede, in Marc., 1, 39: He always mingles together sorrowful and joyful things, that sorrow should not by its suddenness frighten the Apostles, but be borne by them with prepared minds.
Theophylact: After, however, saying what was sorrowful, He adds what ought to rejoice them; wherefore it goes on: “And after that He is killed, He shall rise the third day;” in order that we may learn that joys come on after struggles.
There follows: “But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask Him.”
Bede: This ignorance of the disciples proceeds not so much from slowness of intellect, as from love for the Saviour, for they were as yet carnal, and ignorant of the mystery of the cross, they could not therefore believe that He whom they had recognized as the true God, was about to die; being accustomed then to hear Him often talk in figures, and shrinking from the events of His death, they would have it that something was conveyed figuratively in those things, which He spoke openly concerning His betrayal and passion.
It goes on: “And they came to Capernaum.”
Pseudo-Jerome: Capernaum means the city of consolation, and agrees with the former sentence, which He had spoken: “And after that He is killed, He shall arise the third day.”
There follows: “And being in the house He asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? But they held their peace.”
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: Matthew however says that the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in (p. 181) the kingdom of heaven?” (Mt 18,1)
The reason is, that He did not begin the narrative from its commencement, but omitted our Saviour’s knowledge of the thoughts and words of His disciples; unless we understand Him to mean, that even what they thought and said, when away from Christ, was said unto Him, since it was as well known to Him as if it had been said to Him.
It goes on: “For by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.”
But Luke says (ed. note: Lc 9,46, Vulgate) that “the thought entered into the disciples which of them should be the greatest;” for the Lord laid open their thought and intention from their private discourse according to the Gospel narrative.
Pseudo-Jerome: It was fit also that they should dispute concerning the chief place by the way; the dispute is like the place where it is held; for lofty station is only entered upon to be quitted: as long as a man keeps it, it is slippery, and it is uncertain at what stage, that is, on what day, it will end.
Bede: The reason why the dispute concerning the chief place arose amongst the disciples seems to have been, that Peter, James and John, were led apart from the rest into the mountain, and that something secret was there entrusted to them, also that the keys of the kingdom of heaven were promised to Peter, according to Matthew.
Seeing however the thoughts of the disciples, the Lord takes care to heal the desire of glory by humility; for He first, by simply commanding humility, admonishes them that a high station was not to be aimed at.
Wherefore it goes on: “And He sat down, and called the twelve and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.”
Jerome: Where it is to be observed, that the disciples disputed by the way concerning the chief place, but Christ Himself sat down to teach humility; for princes toil while the humble repose.
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: The disciples indeed wished to receive honour at the hands of the Lord; they also had a desire to be made great by Christ, for the great a man is, the more worthy of honour he becomes, for which reason He did not throw an obstacle in the way of that desire, but brought in humility.
Theophylact: For His wish is not that we should usurp for ourselves chief places, but that we should attain to lofty heights by lowliness.
He next admonishes them by the example of a child’s innocence.
Wherefore there follows, “And He took (p. 182) a child, and set him in the midst of them.”
Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc. see Chrys., Hom. in Matt., 58: By the very sight, persuading them to humility and simplicity; for this little one was pure from envy and vain glory, and from a desire of superiority. But He does not only say, If ye become such, ye shall receive a great reward, but also, if ye will honour others, who are such for My sake.
Wherefore there follows: “And when He had taken him in His arms, He said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in My name, receiveth Me.”
Bede: By which, He either simply shews that those who would become greater must receive the poor of Christ in honour of Him, or He would persuade them to be in malice children, to keep simplicity without arrogance, charity without envy, devotedness without anger. Again, by taking the child into His arms, He implies that the lowly are worthy of his embrace and love.
He adds also, “In My name,” that they might, with the fixed purpose of reason, follow for His name’s sake that mould of virtue to which the child keeps, with nature for his guide. And because He taught that He Himself was received in children, lest it should be thought that there was nothing in Him but what was seen, He added, “And whosoever shall receive Me, receiveth not Me, but Him that sent Me.;” thus wishing that we should believe Him to be of the same nature and of equal greatness with His Father.
Theophylact: See, how great is humility, for it wins for itself the indwelling of the Father, and of the Son, and also of the Holy Ghost.