Who's On First?

The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for the home Depositphotos_60050919_m-2015.jpg

September 23, 2018 – 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Mark 9:30-37

I grew up in a family with three siblings. So, four of us in all. While the term “sibling rivalry” had not yet been invented, there was nevertheless a continuous battle going on between myself and my three sisters. We each wanted to be “first,” especially where there was limited bounty to be shared. And my mom was brilliant in defusing our battle to be first by insisting on equality whenever possible.

Let me describe one of her most effective methods to achieve this. As kids, we all loved chocolate pudding. My mom would make it the old-fashioned way on the stove. Then, we took turns in pouring the steaming pudding into four bowls. Now here’s where her exceptional wisdom showed through. The one whose turn it was to divide the pudding into the four bowls was also the one who got to “choose” his or her bowl last! Meticulous measurement ensued, down to the last spec of pudding. This resulted in a situation where to be last was no better than being first. Like I said, maternal brilliance.

Of course, that’s not the way it works in our competitive world. Nor did it work that way back in the time of Jesus. He had to adjust the way calculations are made in God’s Kingdom.

Mark’s gospel recalls a time when the twelve apostles got into an argument about who was first among them. Of course, everyone wants to be first. First in line. First over the finish line. First to have one’s lawn turn green in the Spring. First to have the latest model car. First to board the airplane. First to make a million. First to be seated in the first row at a concert or at an athletic event. No one even wants to be second.

Jesus suggests another approach to this matter of “being first.” He says if you want to be first, chose to be last. Don’t seek to be a master. Rather take on the role of servant. And if you think about it, if we all did just that, guess what? We all would be first. We all would be equal. We all could say that we are equally loved by God. Which we are.

Pope Francis is deeply concerned about how some individuals impose their power over others. Most Catholics are painfully aware about how power has been misused by some church persons. Especially power over defenseless children. Such acts are shameful, despicable and sinful. This is abuse in horrific form. We have also been made more aware lately of how some men use their power over women. We will not survive as families, as a society or as a church unless we take today’s gospel very seriously.

©David M. Thomas, PhD