Mark 9:30-37
Wisdom From Above
by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.

Jesus and his disciples left from there and began to journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it.  He was teaching his disciples and telling them, "The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise."  But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him.

They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, "What were you arguing about on the way?"  But they remained silent.  They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.  Then he sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all."  Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, "Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me."

A common theme unites all three of our readings today. It is stated simply in the letter of St. James as “wisdom from above.”

The first reading is from the Book of Wisdom and is a bold example of the prophetic wisdom of God. If God, the Father, truly intended to send his only-begotten son down to earth to take on our human flesh and dwell among us, then it makes eminent sense that God would spend time preparing us for this momentous event. He did indeed spend time working out a master plan. Beginning with Abraham, God spent about 2,000 years paving the way for the Incarnation of the Son of God. Through an amazing array of events, persons and prophetic utterances, God set the stage for Emmanuel. Great figures such as Abraham, Isaac and Isaiah were a part of the plan along with powerful events like the Exodus, the serpent mounted on a pole, and the construction of the Ark of the Covenant.

The Book of Wisdom provides us with a most appropriate prophetic utterance. Referring to a particular moment in history, this passage from Wisdom speaks eloquently of the persecutions that Jesus would face about 100 years later: “The wicked say: Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us … Let us see whether his words be true; let us find out what will happen to him. For if the just one be the son of God, God will defend him and deliver him from the hand of his foes. With revilement and torture let us put the just one to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him.”

In our Gospel passage for today, Jesus shares with his disciples “wisdom from above” in the midst of a very frustrating situation where they demonstrate real hardness of heart. Our Lord offers to them a startling prediction of his impending passion and death in Jerusalem. Mark, the Evangelist, remarks that “they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him.” They immediately depart for a journey to Capernaum at the end of which Jesus asks, “What were you arguing about on the way?” The disciples remain silent for they had, in fact, been discussing among themselves who was the greatest. How sad. They truly did not yet understand Our Lord.

Next, instead of firing this group and rounding up another set of disciples, Jesus chooses to turn the incident into a teaching moment. He patiently explains to them that greatness in his kingdom is, in fact, equated with humble service: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” The example of Our Lord’s life cries out with humble service: the cross, the washing of the feet, his extraordinary patience with His disciples, the feeding of the 5,000, and the forgiveness of Peter.

Another recent example of Christian “greatness” quickly comes to my mind. Youth Apostles celebrated a Mass on a recent Saturday where three young men made one-year consecrated commitments to live in poverty, chastity and obedience, as well as to dedicate their apostolic efforts to the service of young people. Two other men who had made the same commitments a year earlier, renewed their commitments that day. We had a reception afterward in the school gym. Mike Paquette, the general director of my community, stayed to the end cleaning up after the reception. During the last few minutes of the clean-up, he was on his hands and knees wiping up the floor with paper towels and a spray bottle. The last of all and the servant of all.

The third piece of wisdom that I gleaned from our readings today comes from Jesus’ action following this teaching moment. “Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me … ”

Jesus encourages a specific example of humble service: to care for and welcome young people in his name. Young people are a pastoral priority for Jesus. They must be a pastoral priority for the church today.

Many adults are tempted to back away from serving young people in our day for a variety of reasons. One is that the youth culture is changing so rapidly that adults can hardly keep up with them and find ways to relate to them. Second, the scandals related to child abuse have people afraid of making a mistake and being accused of inappropriate behavior. The result of these (and many other factors) is that fewer adults want to “receive” children today in the name of Christ.

We must not abandon our young people. They need God, the church and the Good News as much as ever. They need faith-filled, joyful, selfless, caring and encouraging adults today more than ever. Now is not the time to run away from our young people, but to run out into their world and bring to them the love, mercy and truth of Christ.

Where are you going these days in your search for “wisdom from above?”

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