Today’s Gospel Acclamation reminds us that, through the Gospel, God calls us “to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The word “glory” – meaning the manifestation of magnificence, high honor, power or majesty – can be taken as a key to today’s readings. They describe glory from two opposing viewpoints, divine and human.
In the first part of the Gospel, Jesus gives the second of his three predictions of the Passion. In these predictions, which can be found in Mark chapters 8, 9 and 10, Jesus describes the gruesome death that he expects to suffer. He will be “handed over to men and they will kill him.” How does he know what will happen? His deep understanding of human nature provides him with much insight, and the Old Testament prophecies – like the one given in today’s first reading – confirm what he knows.
The Book of Wisdom warns that “the just one” will suffer from the selfish plotting of wicked men. They hate him because he points out the errors of their ways and sheds light on their transgressions of the law. The wicked convince themselves that they should put the just one to the test through revilement and torture, and that they should condemn him to a shameful death. After all, they say to themselves, he claims that God will take care of him. This scenario will be played out in full in Christ’s Passion, just as he predicts. It is not at all glorious, any which way we look at it!
There is more in Jesus’ predictions, however, than a description of his sufferings. He also clearly states that he will rise again after three days. Here, in the Resurrection, is where lies the glory hidden behind the Passion. It turns out that what the wicked men in the first reading say in their mockery of the just one is actually true: “God will take care of him.”
In his Passion narrative, Mark records only one of the traditional “seven last words” attributed to Christ on the Cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is the first line of Psalm 22, sometimes described as the prayer of an innocent person. Jesus himself is the innocent person, and Mark records that he was praying while dying on the Cross. This prayer, which begins with expressions of grief, ends gloriously with peaceful confidence in God’s deliverance. Rather than a statement of accusation against the Father, Jesus was uttering a prayer of complete and confident surrender. In this light, glory results from a deep conviction that the Lord upholds our life. This is the magnificence of glory from a divine perspective.
In stark contrast, the human perspective of glory takes God out of the equation and trumpets human achievement. This is what the disciples are discussing soon after Jesus makes his second prediction of his Passion. They do not want to hear anything about suffering; they are focused on the spoils of victory. As first century Jews in Palestine, their idea of the Messiah is that of a political leader who will win victory for them over the Romans. Suffering simply does not fit into the picture. Furthermore, the disciples measure Christ’s victory with an expectation of scarcity, that is, in a zero-sum fashion, wherein the gain of one is a loss of another. They are clamoring to be the greatest one who takes it all. The Letter of James warns precisely about this: jealousy and selfish ambition lead to disorder and every foul practice.
Jesus patiently corrects his ambitious disciples and teaches them the divine perspective on what it means to be the greatest. It is not a path of domination nor one-upmanship but rather of humility and service. When one is humble, everybody else is allowed to be great. When one serves, the recipients of his or her service feel great. Greatness in this regard is not the result of a zero-sum game but is rather made abundant in multiples. Jesus Christ’s visual aid in making this point is a child – meek, humble and totally dependent. To be child-like embodies the qualities of the “wisdom from above” that James describes: pure, peaceable, gentle, compliant… without inconstancy or insincerity. When we cultivate these child-like qualities, we allow the Lord to uphold our lives, he who is the source of true glory.
The Christian path, the path that Christ himself took, is the Way of the Cross. And the Cross is a symbol of Christian glory. Pursuing this way allows us to be purged of worldly ambition or human activism. It trains us to be disciples of Christ by denying ourselves and carrying our own crosses. It teaches us to be child-like in our disposition toward God who upholds us in every moment of our lives. The Cross leads us to Heaven where we can gaze at God’s glory for all eternity.
What areas in my life do I fail to surrender completely to God? How do jealousy and selfish ambition lead to disorder and every foul practice in my life? How am I cultivating the child-like qualities of humility, meekness and total dependence on God?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 7. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.