By Father Christopher M. O’Connor
The last few months, in light of the scandals plaguing our Church, an expression has been used often, and that is “tone deaf.”
Many leaders in our Church have been accused of being tone deaf, not understanding the devastation of the sex abuse scandals, not understanding how angry people are and not understanding the pain of so many. This musical expression was originally used to explain a person who could not tell the difference in notes or pitches, but is now used to describe individuals who do not understand a situation, and thus respond incorrectly.
In this week’s Gospel, the Apostles, the first bishops of the Church, are guilty of being tone deaf. Our Lord Jesus has just expressed to them for a second time in Mark’s Gospel that it will be necessary for Him to be handed over to men and that He will be killed and will rise again after three days.
We heard this first announcement last week. Now Jesus tells the Apostles again and He will tell them a third time in chapter 10. The Gospel relates that they did not understand and were afraid to question Him.
Maybe they remember the stern rebuke to Peter and none of them want to be called “Satan.” Maybe they are afraid of looking stupid, but they missed an opportunity to ask, “Teacher, what does this statement mean? We want to understand, show us.”
They could have discussed the Scriptures and asked “Do the prophets speak of this event? Does any of our Wisdom literature prophesy this kind of talk?” Our first reading from the Book of Wisdom tells us how the just one is obnoxious to the leaders and they want him put to death. They make the boast, “Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him.”
What do the Apostles do instead? Discuss amongst themselves who is the greatest. The Gospel says that they were arguing about it. Can you imagine a group of a dozen men walking and arguing amongst themselves who is the greatest?
Matthew could have said, “Hey, I was a tax collector, I understand how to work with money, I have more education that the rest of you combined.”
Or Simon the Zealot, “Not you, me. Come on, I was a warrior. I fought against the Romans, none of you could take me.”
One of the fishermen could have responded: “You guys are crazy. I could lift a net full of fish out of the sea myself; I’m stronger than any of you.”
Jesus had just revealed to His closest friends that He is going to die – and die violently. He has said it a second time and the reaction to that pronouncement is to argue amongst themselves who is the greatest. The Apostles are tone deaf.
St. James must have learned his lesson in this moment because he writes in our second reading, “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.” This discussion did not bring about unity, but turned them against one another, allowing for evil to enter.
Imagine if you just made an announcement to your friends that you have a terminal illness and the next question they ask is about the next outing or dinner. The Apostles failed to recognize the importance of the message Jesus was conveying to them, and instead of dealing with the situation at hand, they moved onto another topic. They may have been too afraid to want to know what it meant, but they missed a golden opportunity to respond to the Lord and learn from Him.
When they arrived at Capernaum for the last time before continuing to Jerusalem, Jesus confronts them on the issue of who is the greatest. As was customary for leaders of the ancient world to do, Jesus sat down and calls the Twelve to instruct them.
“If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all,” Jesus tells them.
This is a truly radical concept, because who in his or her right mind would want to be a servant of others? Would you not rather have prestige, power or wealth?
Then our Lord places a child (the word used here in Aramaic and Greek can be used interchangeably with child or servant) in their midst and says, “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.”
Radical Concept of Love
This statement may have been as confusing to the Apostles as the one when Jesus says He is going to be killed. It is radical concept of showing God love. We will be judged on how we care, serve, treat the lowly ones of the world. How we treat them is how we treat God. We are not called to be the greatest, but to be truly charitable, giving to the one who cannot repay.
If we do not wish to be tone deaf, we must have recourse to Jesus in constant prayer. We need to absorb His words in Sacred Scripture, so that they become our own. We must allow Jesus to speak to our hearts and transform them to see Him in His lowly ones and be their servants. Then we can say to the world, “The Lord upholds my life.”