The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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September 22, 2000 Issue
Fr. Ver Bust's Column:
"Explaining the Gospel"

Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Fr. Richard Ver Bust

Disciples learn a lesson in leadership

Jesus was humble and rejected a pattern of power and ambition

September 24, Twenty-fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

By Fr. Richard Ver Bust

Last Sunday we heard Jesus telling his disciples that he would eventually suffer and die because he was to be rejected by the leaders of Judaism. Mark told us that disciples, especially Peter, would not accept this idea.

They believed Jesus was the Messiah but they had the idea that God had sent Jesus to rescue them from the oppression of the Romans. They could not believe that this person whom they had committed themselves to, could be rejected and, even worse, die for what he preached.

This week's Gospel reinforces both Jesus' telling of his impending suffering and death as well as the disciples unwillingness to accept this fate. Mark tells us simply that they did not understand what Jesus was saying.

One usually avoids any suggestions that the now honored leaders of the church had at any time not been faithful knowing followers. One does not, as we today would say, wash our dirty linens in public or reveal skeletons in the closet.

Yet Mark tells a story of rivalry among the disciples. They had returned to Jesus' residence in Capernaum. He had seen them along the way discussing, probably in a very heated way, something that was important. So Jesus asked them directly what they had been arguing about.

The disciples must have been embarrassed for they did not answer. Mark reveals to us what the point of argument was and that is, who was the greatest or most important of the disciples. Jesus must have suspected this for he sat down and began to discuss this very idea. In many ways Mark is trying to tell his own church what leadership within the church means. He suggests that when people ordinarily think of leadership they understand it in terms of authority. They think that leadership makes one more important.

The prediction of Jesus' death and this discussion of who is most important fit neatly together. Jesus had rejected the idea of the Messiah being an earthly ruler with powerful authority and maybe even armies to command. Instead Mark pictures Jesus as the Messiah but a Messiah who was humble and had accepted a different way to win people to the Kingdom of God. He had rejected a pattern of power and ambition.

Now the disciples must understand that in their role in being followers of Jesus, they must also avoid the lure of power and ambition. Mark, of course, is telling the leaders of the church of his time the very same thing. So Jesus tells the disciples that they must really be servants to those they lead. To emphasize this point, Jesus places a small child in the center of the group and puts his arms around the child. He demonstrates a whole new way of leadership.

A child in the society of that time had no authority and in fact no standing. They, like women, were expected to serve the male head of the household. Jesus turned everything upside down. Now that male must serve and help the child and woman. So to serve, receive and accept a child in Jesus' name was really to accept Jesus. Jesus identified himself with the role of a child.

This thought must have really challenged Jesus' disciples. They, who had been arguing now had to rethink what Jesus was asking of them. So Jesus' teaching radically changed the status quo. Mark was doing the same in terms of his church.

(Fr. Ver Bust is professor emeritus in religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)

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