By Fr. Tim McFarland, C.PP.S.
As we read the newspaper, check the news on the internet or on TV, it is often discouraging. In Chicago (and other places), newspapers keep score of the shootings each weekend. For those of us who listen to the Scriptures this Sunday, it may sound like more of the same!
That may be the reaction of the disciples as they listen to Jesus’ speak of his suffering and death. To some, the suffering and death of Jesus is caricatured as showing a cruel God torturing his son in order to avenge himself on humankind. However, his death brings salvation to the whole human race. God does not punish but grants healing and salvation to all by allowing his beloved Son to enter so deeply into our suffering, including the suffering people inflict on one another, and including the ultimate failure of death and dishonor.
We know through the gift of hindsight that it was precisely through suffering and death that God enters into the depths of human experience. It becomes a new way of seeing; suffering and death does not have the final word.
In the passages that follow in Mark’s Gospel, it seems that some of the disciples completely miss the point. Perhaps they cannot bear to see Jesus suffering; rather, they are caught up in their own way of seeing. They are vying for the places of honor, to be the first in line, or to be seen as the greatest in the eyes of the world.
One way of looking at their discourse can be that each disciple was saying to one of the others, “You are the greatest among us!” and that person was saying, “Oh no, I’m not. You are.” It seems like they are portraying a false sense of humility and not seeing themselves as they truly are.
Each disciple was trying to be small in order to seem humble. But there is no true humility in trying to be small. Perhaps we have fallen into this way of thinking as well. It’s easy to project a false sense of humility by putting ourselves down. It’s an easy temptation.
As the parable about the talents in Matthew’s Gospel shows, each person is called to strive for greatness by accepting the gifts God gives him or her and using them to the full. True humility lies in understanding that everything is gift; and everything is meant to be given back, in service of others.
Mark offers us a new way of seeing. When each person strives for greatness in this way, there is no competition. No one is ahead of the others, no matter how much greatness she or he achieves. Rather, all together are one in the Lord, and he is Lord overall. This is the way in which being the servant of all makes one first – certainly a differing way of seeing that what is present in the world.
Fr. Tim McFarland, C.PP.S., is the director of ministry and mission and serves on the faculty at Calumet College of St. Joseph in Whiting, Ind.