Last week and this week, the gospels being read from St Mark tell us of the real essence or the nature of discipleship– of our following Jesus. Last week Jesus told us that to follow him means three things: to renounce ourselves, to take up our crosses and follow him. These three things must go hand in hand as Jesus has shown us in his life and in his death. Today’s gospel tells us of the Christian attitude we are to cultivate in ourselves so that our action to deny ourselves, taking up our crosses and following him would bear significance and be more meaningful in our lives.
What is this attitude to cultivate? It is that of a character of a child or of a humble servant- motivated, inspired and empowered by the call of Jesus to make ourselves last of all and servant of all if we are really serious to become the greatest and the first. This is quite a challenge for us because a child reflects an attitude of dependence, of trust, of powerlessness, of vulnerability, reliability, simplicity, etc. This means that we are not really in control of our lives. This is also what Jesus tells us today: that we are not in total control of our lives. God is, and thus we are to trust in him, depend on him, rely on him and give a space for him in our lives.
The life of Jesus Christ here on earth is a wonderful and singular realization of this child-like attitude. This is beautifully put by St Paul in his letter to the Philippians (Phil 2.) ‘Though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God…but he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…And he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-death on a cross.’ Jesus realized that he is not in total control of his life. That’s why he really emphasises his motivation to do the will of his Father in everything that he does.
I have to admit though that sometimes, I thought that having a childlike attitude in being a Christian, is easier said than done. And sure we can always make many reasons to justify this or to say it is really a hard thing to do. Even the closest disciples of Jesus are also struggling with this. Peter was caught up with the temptation to uphold his social expectation of a messiah who could never die but rule forever. So when Jesus told him: He has to go and suffer and die in Jerusalem, he tried to stand on his way. The disciples in our gospel today are also caught up with the unrealistic expectation that again in the new messianic kingdom someone will become more important and far greater than the others, so they were arguing which of them is the greatest. I would imagine Peter proudly told his fellow disciples: ‘He made me the rock…and it’s tough you know. And I am the rock upon which, Jesus had to build his Church.’ So no doubt I am the most important. But John the beloved disciple could also have protested against Peter: ‘But he just called you ‘satan’ the other day.’ Besides what you are, is just for the administrative stuff but what is important is the content of his message and you know his message is love…and he showed this love especially to me.’ Judas could have said: But we can’t go on with all this without money. Anyone can agree with that. And I am the finance manager here so I must be the most important guy in this group. Philip could have also said: ‘But remember at the deserted place when there were thousands of people there and had no food, Jesus asked me for advice as to where should we buy bread for the people.’ So I am also important you know.
Oftentimes, what really hinders us from faithfully following Jesus and the will of God in our lives is our unrealistic expectations. And we can see this in what our society offers us today. We have this unrealistic expectation that our life here on earth is always meant to be a happy, contented, and trouble-free one. Thus, any discomfort or trouble, or slight pain, we immediately turn to pain relievers or to things that would divert us from the experience of uneasiness. We also have this expectation that many if not all of our questions in life must have answers now. This is unrealistic. Because ‘the more we know, the more we don’t know’ as one philosopher wisely said. These two examples are just few of the many things that take our focus away from Jesus. Unfortunately these unrealistic expectations caused so much division not only between us and others but even within ourselves. St James in our Second Reading today gives us a list of this: jealousy, ambition, disharmony, wicked things we can or we have been doing, wars, violence and killing. These are reflections of what goes within us.
What can we do to be realistic in our discipleship and to combat this inner turmoil in us? We need to pray for the wisdom that comes from God. And again St James would describe for us the qualities of this wisdom from above, i.e. from God. He said: [The] wisdom that comes from above is essentially something pure; it also makes for peace. And is kindly and considerate; it is full of compassion and shows itself by doing good; nor is there any trace of partiality or hypocrisy in it.’
So as we continue our Eucharistic celebration today, let’s renew our resolution to be a Christian. Let’s do this by doing our Christian duty and responsibilities with humility and trust like that of a child. Let us also do this by continually praying for God’s wisdom to help us purify our motives in living and to help us to focus on the more realistic expectation of a Christian which is our salvation and union with God forever.