News, Connections and Photos from the life of the faith community at CAPC Oakland
The key phrase of the periocope (section of the gospel) is verse 35 “Whoever what to be first must be last of all and servant (or slave) of all.” It’s a challenge for us to really understand that. As we see this week in the viist of Pope Francis to the USA, there is an undeniable power and attraction to those of strength who side with weakness, those who are first who prioritize the last. It’s not the idea of Francis, but rather his practice of what Jesus taught.
The sayings of Jesus can seem disparate and disconnected in this selection, yet a common thread – this radical notion of power dynamics in relationships turned upside down – weaves through them all. Jesus gives this teaching in response to the confused fear and anxious muteness of the disciples in verse 32 who don’t understand what he’s saying about the Son of Man being betrayed, killed and ultimately rising to life again. Why does he keep saying this sort of thing..they must wonder…for it appears in Mark 8:31; here in 9:31 and soon in 10:33-34. Each time followed by misunderstanding, anxiety and muteness.
This teaching is the foundation of the good news spoken and lived by Jesus. It’s a radical reversal of the ways of the world, the universe turned not upside down, but rather right side up. This is not a pipe dream or fantasy. It’s what God intended. It’s what we can talk about, but also a liberating contagion set loose and made dynamic in the world when we practice it. Just look at the example this week of the Pope declining a lunch invitation to meet with the super powerful in order to dine and commune with the homeless and outcast. It’s not really sexy, but it sure has captured people’s attention, in fact that of our nation.
Jesus takes the initiative. If the disciples will rest mute, not even responding to what he’s said, he’s going to stir the pot by asking a question that reframes the subject. “What were you arguing about on the way?”
He responds by elucidating his way of living : the Way. Hospitality and welcome for all, starting first and foremost with children, not because they’re the cutest – but because they are the least powerful, the most dependent, the “last” in our society. At least in that one…for an unwanted child wasn’t aborted or put up for adoption, the Romans simply left the infant on the street corner at night. Jesus calls his followers to accept someone, any and everyone, for his sake, to show hospitality and welcome to those even who might act in the name of Jesus (aligned with his intentions and values) even if they don’t know him.
The worst thing you could do is to be a stumbling block, to show the opposite of hospitality and welcome, the opposite of making space for the other. For the way to achieve the greatest of all honors is to serve the needy, those who cannot take care of themselves, in whom the Christ and God himself lie mysteriously hidden. Our actions matter, for God’s power is paradoxically revealed in the world through them.
Questions for Going Deeper: