Being like little children

19 September, 2021 25th Sunday Year B

Imagine the scene. Jesus and his disciples are making their way along the road to Capernaum. Being a few paces away from the others, Jesus is not part of their conversation. Nonetheless he picks up the vibe: the disciples are squabbling among themselves. So, when they arrive at their destination, Jesus confronts them: “What were you arguing about along the road?” Attempting to cover their shame, the disciples say nothing.

Before advancing the story, let us put it in context. Just a few days earlier, Jesus had taken Peter, James and John to Mt Tabor, some thirty miles from Capernaum, where he was shown in all his glory. Then, on the way down the mountain, they came across a boy possessed by an unclean spirit. The disciples try unsuccessfully to heal the boy. Jesus says, “Bring him to me,” and the boy is healed. The disciples’ reaction: “Why could not we heal the boy”? Their concern is not with the boy, but with their own power.

Moreover, on the mountain and along the road, Jesus has been telling the disciples that the Son of Man was to suffer and die, but after three days would rise again. Understandably, too many things are being said and done by Jesus. The disciples are confounded, confused. Their response is to fear Jesus: “They did not understand what he said and were too afraid to ask”. So, what do they do? They start debating about which one of them is the greatest!

We can picture the scene. Peter argues he has been appointed leader of the group. John announces his special intimacy with Jesus. His brother, James, known for his fiery temperament, portrays himself as the most courageous. Philip reminds them it was he Jesus first approaches about feeding the five thousand. But, says Andrew, it was me who found the boy with five barley loaves and two fish without which there would be no miracle. Judas harangues them all: without financial planning (his special gift), the discipleship mission would collapse.

At this point, Jesus has had enough. And so he calls the Twelve to him and says simply: “If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last and servant of all”. Although the disciples should immediately relate this to Jesus’ earlier teachings, such as the Sermon on the Mount, he knows all too well people with ears so often cannot hear! So Jesus, ever the true teacher, takes a little child, symbol of vulnerability, telling them they too must become like “little children” if they are to learn true discipleship.

We are not told how the disciples reacted. Hopefully, they began to realise the question of “who is the greatest” is very much the wrong question. The questions we need to ask are: how can I become like a little child; how can I best learn to serve others; how can I put my ego aside in order to be an instrument of God’s love for others in our world?

Gerard Hall SM

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