Homily for the
25th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Sept. 20, 2015
Mark 9: 30-37
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle
“Jesus was teaching his disciples and telling them, ‘The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and 3 days after his death the Son of Man will rise’” (Mark 9: 31).
Last week we heard Jesus’ 1st prediction of his passion and death, immediately following Peter’s confession—or recognition—that Jesus is the Messiah (8:27-33). Jesus was identifying for them—and us—what it means to be the Messiah, the anointed one of God who is to restore Israel to greatness. Peter immediately denies such a role description, and is soundly rebuked by Jesus.
We’ve skipped over about a chapter, including the story of Jesus’ transfiguration (9:2-8), to come to the 2d prediction of the passion, followed again by the disciples’ failure to understand and then by a discussion about greatness.
That the Messiah—or the Son of Man, in today’s passage, a divinely appointed agent of God’s intervention—must suffer and die is beyond the disciples’ understanding. It’s not at all what current Jewish thought anticipated. Apparently no one was linking the Messiah or the Son of Man with the Servant of YHWH in the prophecies of Isaiah.
Certainly the 12 weren’t making the link. Peter rejected it strenuously last week and was shot down in flames. Maybe that reaction by Jesus remains in the disciples’ minds this week, so that their failure to understand doesn’t produce questions. Many of you have been teachers, and you know that if the 1st child who asks a question is shot down, no one else is going to ask a question. Rather, fear rules the disciples; they’re afraid to question Jesus (9:32).
Why are they afraid? Possibly not wanting to be rebuked as Peter was. More likely, I’d say, is that they didn’t want to admit to themselves that such a horrible fate lies ahead for their teacher and friend. They’re like people who put off making their wills because they’re afraid of death. If the disciples ask Jesus what he means, then they have to deal with his answer; they have to come to terms with the reality of a Messiah who’s going to suffer and die and not lead Israel to a glorious restoration of wealth and power—with them as his inner circle, sharing the wealth and power. As the 2d part of today’s gospel indicates, that’s a dream they really don’t want to let go of.
We can understand their failure to comprehend “rising from the dead.” Many 1st-century Jews believed there would be a general resurrection of the dead at some undefined point in the future. But no one imagined an individual resurrection—the salvation and vindication of just one person. So for Peter last week and all of the 12 this week—and for Peter, James, and John after the transfiguration—“rising from the dead” just doesn’t compute. Jesus might as well be speaking computer code to them.
A 3d possible reason for the disciples’ fear of questioning Jesus is what his fate might imply for them. They’re his followers. They’ve tied their futures to his. They’re hoping for high rank in his messianic kingdom. But if their leader is going to suffer and die, maybe they will too. Who wants to hear that!
Do we want to hear it? Is our recognition that our Messiah suffered and died on the way toward resurrection only an intellectual admission, or do we grasp, accept, and adopt its implications for ourselves, for us who follow him?
When we’re slighted by someone in the community, or offended by some rudeness out on the streets or highways, how do we react?
When we experience physical pain—and at this stage of life, most of us do—do we bear it gracefully, or do we make sure everyone knows we’re hurting?
When our plans get blown up by the weather, by a superior’s decision, by someone’s failure to cooperate, how do we handle it?
When someone calls upon us to exercise greatness by being of service, by doing a favor, by doing a necessary chore, do we think at once of a dozen reasons why we can’t, or do we say yes: “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord!”
After all, our health, our plans, and our dignity are important! We’re servants of God, building up his kingdom. Isn’t everything supposed to go our way?
We’d laugh at the idea if, so often, our thoughts, words, and actions didn’t imply that we really think so.
Our working for the kingdom often does include suffering and—that old chestnut—“offering it up.” Certainly it includes forgiveness, the practice of patience and gentleness, being available to the needs of others.
We’re not afraid to question Jesus about what’s going on in our lives, about how he’s dealing with us—because, unlike the disciples before the resurrection, we do trust him. We’re not afraid to walk the same road that our Messiah walked. “According to his own words, God will take care of” us (cf. Wis 2:20).