True intimacy happens when you are completely accepted and understood by those who are your true friends.  It happens for me when despite knowing me completely that people still accept me and love me.  St. Paul develops these themes in both Romans and Corinthians.

It can be emotionally frustrating when you can’t explain your feelings and ideas to those who are closest to you.  I think that we all want to be known and understood by the people that are most important to us and it is actually very hurtful when we are misunderstood or worse yet ignored.

I can only imagine how Jesus must have felt when he opened up the deepest part of himself to his disciples saying; “The son of man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and after three days after being killed, he will rise again.”  Then from his disciples utter silence.  Nothing at all: “But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.”

To add insult to injury Jesus closest friends who just proved that they understood little began arguing with each other about which among them was the greatest.  How upset and disappointed our Lord must have been.  He was their teacher and they weren’t learning their lessons.

It is important to remember that Mark is a story about Jesus’ life death and resurrection.  The disciples are like us.  Like us they needed to be brought along the way.  Today’s lesson gets to the heart of Jesus’ message. 

In Mark’s gospel he masterfully uses place and space as a running illustration.  Jesus had taken his disciples to the temple to the sacred center and he was trying to teach them that he will dethrone the temple and replace it with himself.  In the lesson for today Jesus is at Capernaum, in a house and Jesus takes his place as teacher by sitting down at the center.  The disciples have been engaged in the old argument of envy about who is the greatest in their little universe.  Jesus calls them into a circle around him where he picks up a child.  He tells them “whoever receives one such little one in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives not me but the one who sent me.”  To receive and include rather than expel and exclude is the mark of the new community of the kingdom.

Jesus is giving us a new teaching that we are to care for those who are last of all.  Jesus’ dramatic gesture of taking a child into his arms says that the greatest in the kingdom are those who can only receive those who have no power or prestige.  Jesus himself identifies with them.  This is humility and humility is clearly the antidote to envy and rivalry.

Think about what was at the center of Jesus’ inherited religion.  It was the temple, and at the heart of the temple was the holy of holies.  Every year the high priest would enter the holy of holies and lie to the people telling them that the Ark of the Covenant was safely there.  When Jesus died on the cross the curtain that covered the holy of holies was torn in two and it revealed that nothing was at the center of their religion.

Jesus came to offer us something very different.  We are at the center in the arms of Jesus.  At the center displacing the sacred power of envy Jesus comes to show us the way of love and forgiveness.  The sacred can only create victims.  The child at the center is the symbol of the new way, the new community that embraces rather than killing or expelling the powerless ones.

The good news of Jesus is that his new community is based on love and forgiveness that is beginning to replace the conspiracy of the sacred by neutralizing the power of envy. 

The sacred mob organized by the chief priests shouted for Jesus’ blood.  In that frenzied crowd envy bound the members one to another in a bond of rivalry and desire.  No one can be found caring for the victim or siding with the weak, because that would be surrendering in the battle for prestige.  The gospel declares that giving up the battle for prestige is not a loss but the only path to preeminence in the order of the new community.  The child at the center is the very symbol of the church as a non-sacrificial community.  Jesus holds us in his arms and all of us are held here in the church where we are loved and known by Jesus and this is where we learn to know and love one another.

Jesus came into the world to save humanity from itself.  Mark tells us in today’s lesson that Jesus is betrayed into the hands of humanity.  Humanity’s guilt is universal. Jesus betrayal is not by some demonic or divinized force.  The responsibility lies in human hands. 

It is time to stop the envy and the arguments about who is the greatest.  Jesus is the greatest because he points clearly to his Father who made us not to be rivals but rather brothers and sisters.  Jesus at the center with the child in his arms is a beautiful picture of the only hope we have.

 

1. Have you ever had the experience of saying something important to you and getting the response of silence?

2. What is envy?  When someone else has something you think should be yours.

3. How can humility stop envy?