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Who serves is worthier than who prevails

In the first part of today’s gospel, an announcement of the passion is introduced: “The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him; but three days after he has been killed, he will rise” (Mark 9:31).

 He is about to be delivered. By whom?—we ask. The answer seems obvious: by Judas. Instead we are faced with what theologians call divine passive, i.e. a verb in the passive that, in the Bible, is used to attribute to God a determined action. It is God who gives his son, who delivers him into the hands of people.

The lover has no other way to express all his love than to throw himself into the arms of a loved one. This is what God has done: he turned himself in to the hands of people, knowing that they would do to him what they wanted.

The disciples are not able to understand this self-sacrificing love of the Lord. Their thoughts are far too removed from those of the Lord and they are afraid to ask him for clarification (v. 32). It is easy to see the reason of their stupidity. According to Jesus, the fate that awaits the Son of Man is incompatible with the religious beliefs inculcated by the rabbis, is the opposite of their expectations. They cannot accept the idea that God abandons his chosen one to the hands of criminals. 

  Once in Capernaum, the Master asks them, “What were you discussing on the way?” (v. 33). His is not a question but an accusation. He is aware of the heated dispute in which all got involved during the journey. The disciples are silent, they feel exposed, ashamed. They realise that they have committed something senseless. They know that, on the subject of seeking the first places, the Master does not agree and always speaks firmly.

 Mark carefully reconstructs the scene. While the embarrassed disciples are silent, Jesus “sits down,” takes the position of the rabbi who is preparing to teach an important lesson. Then he “calls his disciples to him,” and orders them to come because he sees them separated. He feels them distancing from him. Finally he pronounces “his solemn judgment” on the true greatness of the man, “If someone wants to be first, let him be last of all and servant of all” (v. 35). It is the synthesis of his proposal of life and it is so important that the evangelists resume it six times in different shades.

Mark notes that the scene took place in the house and this house represents the Christian community. Each community must consider addressed to itself the words of the Master. It has to absolutely avoid inventing excuses to justify the situations of domination and subordination, which are in sharp contrast with the gospel. 

In the Christian community who occupies the first place has to put aside all desire of greatness. The Church is not a stepping stone to get to positions of prestige, to emerge, to gain control over others. It is the place where everyone complies with the gifts he has received from God, celebrate their greatness in humble service to others. In God’s eyes, the greatest is the one who most resembles Christ, who is the servant of all (Luke 22:27).

The Lord wants the community of his disciples to put at the center of its attention and efforts the poorest, those who do not count, the marginalised and the insignificant. 

Father Fernando Armellini CMF