God’s ways are not our ways. This is one of the points Jesus was trying to make with his Apostles in last week’s gospel, and that theme continues be examined in our readings for this week…
Wisdom 2:12, 17-20
Psalm 54:3-4, 5, 6, 8
Our first reading comes from the Book of Wisdom. By way of reminder, the Book of Wisdom was written about fifty years before Christ. For Jesus and his followers, this was a contemporary work, and like most wisdom literature, served as a sort of catechism for the Jewish community. In this case, however, the community wasn’t from Jerusalem, but from Alexandria, and was written in Greek (not Hebrew) while patterned on a style used in Hebrew verse. For most Christians reading this passage, it sounds very much like how Jesus was treated. It can be hard for us to remember that this verse comes to us a couple generations before he was even born. Still, the theme of “the suffering servant,” popularized by Isaiah, rings true with vivid detail. Like Isaiah’s servant songs, our Psalm reminds us that our service and praise to God will lead to our salvation… that God is behind us.
Our second reading continues our study of the Letter of St. James. This week he teaches us that it is our selfish ambitions that are at the root of our problems, as individuals, as a community, and as a society. Instead, we should recognize the wisdom from above and that the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace. James is challenged with bringing together a community that is divided in a world where they are surrounded almost constantly by conflict. James, using the same wisdom found in our first reading, is teaching us that there is a better way.
Our Gospel continues this “suffering servant” theme with Jesus reminding his disciples that the Son of Man will be handed over and killed. Our story picks up not too long after last week’s Gospel where Jesus rebuked Peter for telling Jesus not to speak of such things, so understandably, the disciples are afraid to question him on this as they continue their travels through Galilee. When they reach Capernaum, the disciples are gathered together in a room when Jesus enters and asks what they were arguing about during the trip, but they don’t answer (they were arguing about who is greatest of them). Jesus scolds them by saying he wishes to be first will be last and servant of all. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Instead of rebuking them further, however, he turns the encounter into a “catechetical moment…” taking a child into his arms, teaching them that whoever comes to him like this child will be received by him, and in turn, by God.
While this story is somewhat short and lacking in the intermediate details, it still does a good job at setting the scenes for us, and gives us some insight into the daily life of this band of travelers. It’s not hard to imagine that the Apostles could be a little intimidated by Jesus at this point, while at the same time engaging in the adolescent high jinks of figuring out who’s best. It’s easy for us to forget that Jesus and his followers were only young adults by today’s standards… young, impetuous, still learning. Not yet the great saints they will later become. But the narrative is meant to help us see the disciples that we can become. Like the young apostles, we don’t always understand. Yet just like them, we to will grow to understand. Through them we can see that there’s hope for us as well, and that Jesus’ death (and resurrection) was not in vain.