Reflection on the Sunday's readings: Daniel
Daniel's previous reflections
point – Mark 9:30-37
is a receptive skill that helps to make sense of the noise going around us,
enables to decipher the meaning of words spoken to us, and prepares us for
engaging into a meaningful conversation with others. A part of the listening
process is to understand what is said and to respond accordingly. In the Gospel
of Mark (9:30-35), Jesus spoke about His passion. The reaction of His disciples
was silence. We are told that they “did not understand what he meant and were
afraid to ask him about it” (Mark 9:32). A few verses further, we read that
their response to Jesus’ talk was a quarrel about the power and status (Mark
9:34). A communication breakdown took place: He spoke about passion; they
quarreled about greatness. They missed the point entirely. What could contribute
to the failure of their understanding of Jesus’ message?
On September 19, 2006, the President of U.S. gave a speech in front of the UN Assembly. He spoke with power and conviction; he ordered many leaders what they should do in order to meet the demands of democracy and security. It was the speech of the most powerful man in the world. A day later, the President of Venezuela also delivered a speech in front of the same assembly that was filled with invectives directed against J.W. Bush. Words, like “devil”, and “dictator” fell from the mouth of Hugo Chavez many times. “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight” (James 4:1-2).
“What were you arguing about on the road?” – was Jesus’ question directed to the closest group of His disciples, the Twelve. Ashamed to answer, they kept quiet. After spending so much time with Jesus, listening to His teaching and seeing Him at work, they sensed that it was inappropriate – to say the least – to argue about who is the greatest among them. They bathed themselves in the fame of their Master and they wanted to get all the honors associated with being His disciples.
There is a wisdom that is earthly and unspiritual. Longing for power and position is one of its characteristic; envy and selfish ambition are two others (James 3:16). We often fail to realize how much we are shaped by the world’s patterns. To be at the top; to compete; to possess, are the key words the world uses to convey its message: “the guy, at the top of the ladder, and with the biggest collection of toys at the end of the game, wins.” The world does not provide patterns for service, humility, and the cross. It provides a pattern for “higher, faster, better,” leaving behind those who cannot cope with its standards. “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4). That is the reason, why Jesus had, and still has, such a hard time to make His disciples understand His message.
Three times in Mark’s Gospel Jesus tried to convey the message about His passion to the disciples. First, at the peak of His career, when people were flooding to listen to His preaching and to experience His miraculous powers, Jesus said that “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected . . ., and that he must be killed and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31). Then, right after showing His future glory and healing the boy with an evil spirit, Jesus again spoke about being betrayed and killed by the men (Mark 9:31). Finally, before embarking on their last pilgrimage to the Holy City, he openly stated that they were going to Jerusalem where “the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law” (Mark 10:33). Each time, the reaction from the disciples was rather disappointing. First, Peter rebuked Jesus for having predicted such an “incredible” end to His career (Mark 8:32); then, the disciples argued who was the greatest among them (Mark 9:34); finally, after the third prediction of His passion, James and John came to Jesus asking Him for “parliamentary seats” in heaven, one at the right and one at the left side of Jesus (Mark 10:35-45). Obviously, they failed to understand Jesus.
I often think about Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who from the window of her office, in St. Mary’s High School in Calcutta, saw poverty and misery. She spoke about it with her superior, spiritual director, and her bishop, to no avail. All of them warned her against leaving the convent of the Sisters of Loreto to which she belonged that time. They considered it either as the devil’s temptation or a mid-life crisis. There were no previous patterns that could help her to make a decision. The only pattern that she could look up to was that of Jesus.
We often lack heavenly patterns that would enable us to decipher Jesus’ message and make sense of what He is trying to tell us. We tend to operate at the level of worldly wisdom, where being the greatest and having the front seats ensures the success. Jesus tries His best to bring us to the level of heavenly wisdom, where servanthood is the model for success: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35); “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The challenge is to listen attentively and think the way God thinks. “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).
Philippines is well-know for its corrupted politicians and government officials,
and a very unsafe place for journalists and opposition leaders. However, the
world tends to overlook its less known quality of the services done by the
overseas workers. There are millions of Filipinos working abroad as nurses,
teachers, and domestic workers. They fill the shortage in those service-oriented
professions, rendering valuable services to the children, sick, and elderly, who
otherwise would be left without education and care in those so-called first
world countries. Moreover, they do not only render the service, but also bring
their faith in Jesus, giving witness to the presence of God who loves and cares.
is a skill that needs to be developed. It requires paying attention to certain
key words and phrases, but it also demands to reshape our common patterns and
standards by which we try to handle the reality of life. In the above mentioned
story of the Gospel, we need take into consideration the word “servant.”
Jesus, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, came to serve. He left us a
different pattern for living in this world and He wants us to imitate Him: “If
anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all”
(Mark 9:35). If we do not listen attentively and look to Jesus as our pattern
for action, we may end up like the disciples missing Jesus’ point entirely,
quarreling among ourselves about greatness.