After leaving the mountain Jesus and his disciples made their way through Galilee; and he did not want anyone to know, because he was instructing his disciples; he was telling them, ‘The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men; they will put him to death; and three days after he has been put to death he will rise again.’ But they did not understand what he said and were afraid to ask him.
They came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ They said nothing because they had been arguing which of them was the greatest. So he sat down, called the Twelve to him and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.’ He then took a little child, set him in front of them, put his arms round him, and said to them, ‘Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’Mk 9:30-37
Jesus foretells his death and resurrection for the second time. The prophecy is still confusing and frightening to the disciples, who rather expected Jesus to establish a glorious temporal kingdom of which they would have a part.
On their way back to Capernaum the disciples are swept up by vain ambition and debate between themselves as to who among them would be the greatest. Jesus mildly rebukes them and teaches that greatness in God’s eyes is measured by humility and service to others. ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all’ (v.35). It was only when Jesus rebuked them that the disciples were aware that ambitious thoughts and aspirations had got the better of them. As future leaders of the Church, the apostles must resist aspirations for worldly honour and attention in order to serve Christ more faithfully and effectively.
This call to humility and service is echoed in a prayer from St Ignatius of Loyola:
To give and to not count the cost.
To fight and to not heed the wounds.
To labour and not to seek rest.
To serve and to not seek reward, except to do thy will.
The child in this passage provides an image of who should be served and the spirit needed to perform such service. According to St. John Chrysostom (Homily on Matthew 58), the very sight of the boy was intended to persuade the disciples to humility and simplicity, for this little one was free of envy and vainglory and from a desire for superiority. Welcoming innocent children with affection is tantamount to serving both Jesus and the Father.
Jesus’ remark ‘Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me, but the one who sent me’ is similar to his call ‘Whatever you do to the least of mine, you do it to me’ in challenging us to be true witnesses to God’s love in the world.
Director, Mission and Identity