Sunday Reflection - 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Posted: Fri, 17 Sep 2021 12:45
It is interesting that the gospel this week opens with Jesus' re-enforcing what being the 'Messiah' actually means: 'The Son of Man will be handed over to those who will kill him. Three days later, however, he will rise to life' (Mk 9:31). Mark places this event after the gift of Transfiguration: Peter, James and John gained an insight into what resurrection would mean, but they were still confused and asked themselves, 'What does this 'rising from death' mean?' (Mk 9:10). Jesus does point to glory, but it can only be achieved through the pain of Calvary.
In today's account it is the Twelve who are discussing the implications of what Jesus is teaching them about taking up the Cross—it is not just a convenient sound bite; it is what it means to be a true follower of Christ. Mark makes it clear that Jesus speaks plainly to his friends—there is no need to use parables. However, 'they did not understand what this teaching meant, and they were afraid to ask him' (Mk 9:32).
These first Bishops and leaders of our Church were scared to question Jesus! Their fear and concern is something we must recognise, and not fear our own concerns and doubts. I am sure that the events of the last eighteen months have caused you 'wobbles': I freely admit to being confused, hurt and scared as I tried to navigate the problems of Covid-19. I am so blessed that I had a wonderful community, a loving family and caring friends; they saw me through my fear and apprehension and offered unconditional care and support, not without gentle challenges too. I also realised the need to turn to God more closely in prayer, and not to fear the grace of the sacrament of reconciliation. As Pope Francis reminds us, the gift of Confession must not be seen 'as a form of torture but rather as a liberating encounter, full of humanity, through which we can educate in a mercy that does not exclude, but rather includes the just commitment to make amends, as far as possible, for the sin committed' (St Peter's Square 17/03/2021).
They do not seem to have understood the conversation Jesus had with Peter last week and bicker among themselves as to who is the greatest: they want to take the glory, but, at this stage in their formation, are they ready to accept the pain? Here we have the future leadership of the Christian community involved in some sort of playground war: you can almost hear them say, 'well my dad is bigger than your dad!' When challenged by Jesus again they say 'NOTHING' (Mk 9:34); a child is placed in the centre of their circle and they are told, by their Messiah, to be more child-like. Their arguing on the road can be seen as childish, but Jesus is pointing to a quality that children share with us: their ability to show simple and unconditional trust - a childlike innocence that we must all work for. Children do not make things unnecessarily complicated—they often point to the obvious solution. Yes, they fall out and have rows, but they can make up again just as quickly — they value their friends and want to support them. Jesus again points for the need for true care as the child shows that true greatness does not involve lording it over others: 'Whoever wants to be first must place himself last of all and be the servant of all' (Mk 9:35). Jesus is a king certainly, but he is the SERVANT KING.
As a Church we are honoured to welcome children to the liturgy. I applaud clergy who do not make a fuss when a child cries or makes a noise; I used to reflect that these 'interruptions' were blessed times. In this sacred noise that children make in church we must really discern what God is asking of us; is the child making a more important point than me? Is God telling me that I have preached far too long? Am I prepared to truly listen to what children are saying? We must do all we can to encourage families, children and young people to take their place at the table of the Word and Eucharist. Jesus tells us plainly that they are the greatest—greater even than our first Pope, Peter and the early disciples. Jesus places a child in the centre of this group of leaders and tells them to learn from the child and to 'Welcome' (Mk 9:35) them. In welcoming children, we are told we welcome God (see Mk 9:37).
Perhaps today is a good time to stop and to look at our ministry of welcome: how does my community welcome? Even before the restrictions of Covid-19, what did my parish do to make people feel accepted? What do we do to encourage the young to make a meaningful contribution to the life of our parish? We all have a strong story to tell about the effects of this global pandemic in our lives; are we prepared to give young people a voice so that they can share their feelings, their hopes and fears about the future? We have to look beyond the mentality that our young people are the Church of the FUTURE; the reality is that they are very much a part of the Church NOW. If we are not prepared to welcome the young now, with all their questions and their challenges, do we really deserve a future? We need to realise, with Pope Francis, that speaking down to the young is not going to get us very far; rather it is 'by listening to young people, the church will once again hear the Lord speaking in today's world' (St Mary Major 08/06/2017).
Author: Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB
Image: Owner unknown