Scripture Readings: Mark 9:30-37, Esther 3:1-6.
It would be easy to believe that the world is overwhelmed with such terrible suffering; poverty, the loss of freedoms, flights from terror, and of course the existential threat of climate change. As the world burns from forest fires and the fires that rage in human hearts – it would be easy to despair. But our God, who exists in all of time and all of space, and beyond – who is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End – He knew in a world where He gave us the perfect freedom to choose – yes or no, right from wrong – He knew things would not always go well. Yet, it is in this perfect freedom, free from the intervention of any power (without much prayer and petition), that love and life both become in themselves true.
In todays Gospel reading we hear the second of three prophesies recorded in St Mark about the passion of Jesus. We are given insight to what will come, that God who is Love became man and will suffer with us, and for us, that He will die but rise.
We begin to see that outward appearances are not truth. That what appears weak, is actually strong. That our suffering in Love has an ultimate purpose and strength. For Love is as strong as death, passion as fierce as the grave.
The upside-down Kingdom of God is being revealed to us in a world that pits power against innocence, corruption of the heart against honesty and integrity. A world that chooses to manipulate others in order to win, to be first, to be the greatest.
In this Gospel reading Jesus separates His disciples from the world in order to teach them the truth of God’s Kingdom. Left to themselves we find they are arguing about who was the greatest. They have grown up in a world that values materialism, that values having, possessing, and winning. They have grown up with the rich being honoured, and kings who have great material wealth seeming to be blessed by God. They have grown up in a world where weakness fails, where uncertainty means to be out of control, where leadership means to be strong. So, it is no wonder that they shun vulnerability, that they are unwilling to engage with Jesus in an authentic and meaningful way. Because they are afraid.
Relationship and connection takes real courage of heart. It requires flexible thinking, to be open to not having all the answers, it requires us to be vulnerable. The seeking of power is a rejection of our weakness, a rejection of our humanity, a rejection of the Christ crucified.
Jesus teaches us He came to serve. Love is after all His being and His doing. Serving one another in love is our way to imitate Jesus and so it becomes our purpose too. But love is bigger and broader than we often imagine. Love is not just a feeling we have for our partners or spouses – but it is a recognition of our universal human need to love and our deep hunger to be loved. In this we can love with empathy, with all our relationships, and realise that the love we feel on the inside is not a possession to hold on to, but a gift to be shared in kindness, in patience, by forgiveness and service. St Paul tells us Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
But the wickedness of a man or woman does not work for the good of another but for themselves. Here in this Gospel reading even the disciples shadow side is revealed – and we all have a shadow side that may, or may not, be hard to see. Forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist Dr Gwen Adshead suggests it is in our nature to resist the idea that evil is both obvious and only found in “others”. Haman the character from our first reading is an enemy of God’s chosen people, he is offended by Mordecai a Jew, by his refusal to kneel before him – Haman who has been granted a noble position is seeking status, and power – he is seeking to lift himself up in the eyes of others. Day after day Mordecai refuses to submit himself to the fleeting power of the world. This is never easy.
Haman’s only response to Mordecai is the desire to destroy him, and all of God’s people throughout the whole kingdom.
Yet Jesus, who walks on water, heals the sick and raises Lazarus from the dead – Jesus who is fully God and holds the power of creation in His hands – He comes to us fully human, fully divine – to suffer, to serve, to love – not ever lifting Himself up – He is instead raised up by the action of humankind.
Jesus teaches us that the way of true discipleship is shown to us by children. To be a child was then and still is to be vulnerable, eager to learn new things, to have wonder, to hope all things, to believe all things, and to be dependent on a parent. Jesus says in the Gospel of St John ‘the Son can do nothing by Himself; He can only do what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. So, just as we are to become like children and depend on Jesus, Jesus also depends on the Father.
Through the mystery of the Trinity Jesus is God – our rock and our refuge in good times and in bad. Jesus is the Exodus action of God in our lives – the making of a way for us, where there is no other way.
For God so loved the world He gave us His only Son, so we too devote our whole self, to depend on Him, not our own resources, to submit ourselves to Him and His Kingdom purposes, in all situations abandoning outcomes to our Father, not the world, and to love others as much as He loves us.