Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 23, 2018)

The Book of Wisdom is the last book written in the Old Testament. We just heard from its opening section promoting the wisdom of an other-world view over a this-world view. God sent prophets to try to break through the very common, this-world mindset.

Jesus-as-prophet tries for the second of three attempts in two successive chapters in mark’s gospel to tell his disciples that he is the Messiah, who will suffer, die and rise from death. Mark uses a simple process: prediction, misunderstanding, corrective teaching. I wonder if John copied this idea from mark because the same pattern is frequently present in his “Johannine misunderstanding.” John wrote several decades after Mark. We heard examples of this last month in his bread of life discourse.

Today, Jesus’ disciples changed the subject of Jesus-as-Messiah/Son of Man to their agenda: who is the greatest? Jesus asked what they were discussing, but they did not tell him. Jesus spoke about greatness and said: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” He set a child in front of him. He embraced the child and said: “whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not [only] me, but the one who sent me.”

The reason for choosing the child was not because of a child’s innocence and openness. The present context is “greatness.” A child in that culture and, sadly, for many in our culture is the person least valued, yet, Jesus says that the one who becomes like the child will be the greatest. A child – before it learns the word “mine” – does not seek to possess things, does not seek power, does not lord it over others. That is the point that Jesus makes. Neither is he saying that children were unloved or uncared for in Jewish culture. He tries to convince them that status in his other-world view is the reverse of what the wisdom of this-world is. Children were at the bottom on the status scale.

If the task of the prophet is to both afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, Jesus is doing both in this scene. He is trying to teach them that the comfortable notion that status, possessions and power make one “number one, first” is wrong; the opposite is correct. The one who becomes poor in spirit and powerless is the one who will be first in the kingdom of God. He reiterates the value of discipleship in rejecting status and accepting servant tasks. Some disciples want none of this. He is also trying to provide comfort for their imminent affliction when they will see him suffer terribly and die.

For those who have self-centeredness as a form of consciousness, the prophet’s words are manipulated to fit their self-centeredness. Their manipulation may be playing the acting-role of a servant in order to achieve recognition; that is, they become a phony-last to become a phony-first with a false humility. Or, they make the prophets the enemy that must be silenced. They will find some “reason,” and never see their self-centeredness.

The real great are those who try to assume the consciousness of Jesus. They try to Live Jesus.

Now, fasten your seatbelt. A spiritual writer like John Shea and a world leader like Dag Hammarskjöld recognize “least” at a deeper level. Carl Rogers, a therapist, without mention of god, achieved wonderful, clinical results with the following.

These accept, welcome and embrace persons considered “least” at their deeper, moral-social level. They accept a person in being a human person – as Jesus did. At your and my “least,” we are: without title, without status, without wealth, without possessions, without color, without race, without political stance, without sexual orientation. At this level, we can see a person with the eyes of Jesus and his father without clutter and without any make-up and accept, welcome and serve every person with god-consciousness. Clearly an other-world view. Perhaps this brings new meaning to the expression: “Less is better.”