September 25-26: Preparing to Celebrate this Sunday’s Mass

One of the features seen throughout St. Mark’s Gospel is an honest and compelling treatment of “discipleship.” Disciples (or “followers”) in the ancient world would seek out a teacher or rabbi and “follow” or “come after” him. Discipleship involved not only learning from the teacher, but developing a personal relationship with him. St. Mark recounts that Jesus turned the tables by seeking out His own disciples and calling them to follow Him. He eventually sent them out to carry on His work (3,14; 6,7; 11,1; and 14,13). Yet St. Mark, in a surprisingly honest way, displays the weaknesses and failures of the disciples whom Jesus has called; his Gospel focuses on the disciples’ unwillingness or inability to see, hear, and understand who Jesus is (Isaiah 6,10; Mark 4,12; 6,52; 7,14; and 8,17-8). St. Mark even tells how they abandoned Jesus in His hour of need (14,50). 

Based on what we have heard about the behavior of the Apostles over the past few Sundays, we have to wonder if they would ever catch on to anything Jesus was teaching them. Two weeks ago, St. Peter was completely “wrong” about what it meant to say Jesus was the Anointed One of God, the Christ. Last week, it was the disciples’ ambitious talk among themselves – about who was going to sit where in the Kingdom. This week, St. John shows us how jealously exclusive they had become over their role and relationship with Jesus. St. John did not like it that someone from “outside” was doing things, even good things, in the name of Jesus. He thought that he and his friends had “exclusive rights.”

Jesus rejected this exclusive thinking and affirmed the teaching that anyone who does the will of God belongs in the “family.” Jesus said as much when His own “family” came to take Him away: “Who are my brothers and sisters? Anyone who does the will of my Father.” It is tolerance that Jesus insists upon in the Gospels, and He still does. He commands tolerance, though not the “anything goes” tolerance, but the “mutual respect and compassionate understanding” tolerance. Reflection on this might well open our minds and hearts to more tolerant attitudes toward Islam, Judaism, and other Christian communities, especially when we see them doing good and acting respectfully, prayerfully, and generously. Intolerance is always a sign of arrogance and ignorance, as we see in this Sunday’s Gospel. We may certainly disagree with another’s beliefs, but we should never despise a person who sincerely holds those beliefs. Disciples of Jesus are recognized for how they serve others, not how rashly we judge others.

So, after St. Mark goes to such great lengths to say the honest truth about the first followers of Jesus, displaying their weaknesses and failures, focusing on their unwillingness or inability to see, hear, and understand Jesus, the same St. Mark leaves it up to the readers of the Gospel (us!) to carry out the Gospel message and tell others of Jesus’ life, death, and Resurrection. What does this mean for us? It’s time to get to work!

Let us pray. “O God, you make known your power by showing us your mercy and understanding. Grant us your grace so that we may be inviting, welcoming, gracious, and open to all those whom you send our way. Keep us faithful to the Way of your Son. Help us to see the fulfillment of your promises and truly become heirs to the treasures of heaven. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Translate »