Focusing on the formation of His disciples, Jesus guides them to close the gap between their thinking and His, just like the difference between His direction and theirs. Jesus is all intent in fulfilling His mission of self-offering for the good of others, while His disciples are quarreling among themselves over their imagined respective eminences (Mark 9:30-37).
Jesus walks toward calvary
It is now the second time that Jesus announced to His followers His approaching passion and death, thus revealing his fundamental awareness which, though frightening, He would not suppress. Nothing could deter Him from it, as we saw last Sunday in His rebuke to Peter who thought of dissuading Him about it. “Get behind Me, Satan! You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mark 8:33). God is love and mercy, and God thinks of the liberation of sinful humanity from evil and of being in communion with Him. And Jesus thinks as His Father does. God so loved the world He gave us His only Son; Jesus so loves humanity He willingly offers Himself for us.
Jesus was determined to move on to fulfill His Father’s will; that was what He came for. He wanted Peter and the other disciples to “get behind” Him on this, to follow Him and not be going their different way. Doing the Father’s will is non-negotiable; obedience to the Father is primary. It is the greatest commandment, and Jesus would tell them about it as often as necessary and teach them to accept it. That is what distinguishes Jesus from anybody else, His total and absolute fidelity to God. That is His way, and it must be the way for His followers, too, if they are to be with Him in the reign of God.
The disciples’ direction
The disciples could not at first understand Jesus talking so-matter-of-fact about His being rejected and put to death. And they were too afraid to question Jesus about it. They seemed to be walking out of step with Him, in their own direction. In fact, they were fighting with each other as to who among them was the greatest; they were really more taken up by their personal ambitions and interests, as humans ordinarily are and think. Power and comfort, wealth and glory so often fill human thoughts and define our consciousness. To be behind Jesus and following His steps and going His way is different.
Jesus earlier told His disciples that anyone who wishes to follow Him must deny oneself and take up one’s cross. Self-seeking stands radically opposite to being truly self-denying and being there for others in self-sacrifice. In a world of egoism where “selfie” can go all the way and one lives for oneself only, the necessary conversion to Jesus or “turning around” means nothing short of divesting oneself of what the world thinks are components of being the greatest or greater or, at least, great. Met with the embarrassed silence of His disciples when He confronted them with their petty self-interests, Jesus must have silently stepped outside the house to return back leading a child to be set in their midst. The way of the world can be symbolized by the treatment a child gets from self-centered people. A child’s littleness and weakness is very tempting for abuse and maltreatment, as have been terribly happening even in our communities. Or the neediness of a child can summon God-like compassion from us in the way of Jesus.
Alálaong bagá, receiving a child with love and being there for a child means becoming last, because the child with its needs comes first. Children can summon the best out of us and we grow in caring for them, as we transcend our own pettiness and self-preoccupation. It illustrates what Jesus teaches us, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last and the servant of all.” Being ready to be the last and the servant means conforming ourselves to Jesus and being in-step with Him, who walked up to Calvary to empty Himself for our sake.
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