Still in Galilee, Jesus predicts his suffering and resurrection a second time; here, as earlier and later, he says he will die and rise as the Son of Man, i.e., the person the OT has said would suffer, then be glorified and would, finally, be judge of the world. ’Messiah’, ’Lord’, ’Savior’ do not convey this description. As earlier and as later, the disciples understand nothing of what Jesus is saying; how could they understand the cross, in light of the power and wisdom and holiness of Jesus which they have experienced till now? This second passion/resurrection prediction again heads a series of teachings, all of which are related to the suffering a disciple must bear. The first teaching has to do with the theme of an argument among the disciples: Who of us is the greatest? The answer to this question is short and to the point: ’if you wish to be first, you must choose to be last and be servant of all’. Jesus’ words force one to see how the supreme command of love of God and love of neighbor can only be fulfilled by a person’s willingness to serve all – and for that one must think of oneself as a servant, as putting others ahead of oneself. Conversely, to put oneself ahead of others is wrong to the degree that it impedes service or love to all others. This love or service is defined, as Acts gives it: ’such was the love for others that no one was in need’; at stake here is not affection nor diminishing one’s self-respect or appreciation of one’s talents, but leaving no one in need – and to achieve that I must look beyond myself, put others before me. This attitude of loving even ’the least’ is symbolized by Jesus embrace of the ’least’ in society, the child. To receive a child, to serve the least – this is what makes one deserving of the title ’greatest’. In short, ’greatest’ is defined by service; Jesus was the greatest in his becoming the servant even to die for us who were in need. If defining ’greatest’ involved new understanding, so driving out demons in Jesus’ name means new understanding (and Mark’s Gospel is full of ’new understandings’). The key here is that the person drives out demons using Jesus’ name. The person is not a follower of Jesus, yet confesses that it is Jesus’ name he must use to drive out demons. In this way the outsider glorifies Jesus; Jesus concludes he is with us in this sense, and cannot harm us. Similarly, Jesus adds, if a person gives you (or anyone) a cup of water because of your belonging to me, he will be rewarded; he may not be a follower, but he shows such respect for me, and for someone who belongs to me, that he is rewarded and not feared. There is doing good to those who belong to Jesus, but there is also doing bad to those who belong to Jesus. This latter thought moves Jesus to underline the seriousness of harming his follower, even the littlest – for, as Jesus had said a moment ago, we are to empty ourselves to make sure that not even the littlest be in need. Jesus uses the oratorical device of exaggeration to emphasize the evil. That is, he does not expect one to cut off a hand, or a foot, or pluck out an eye. One is only expected to understand by these extreme examples how evil it is to do harm, even to the least. Lack of understanding is key here, and it follows the disciple everywhere; he must understand, not misunderstand, and to understand properly is to understand as Jesus understands. Salt gives taste and it preserves. To be salted here means to have the faith that purifies like fire and gives taste to a life otherwise tasteless, without meaning. If one loses one’s faith in Jesus, shown particularly by thinking otherwise than he does, life returns to being insipid; there is nothing else than faith that gives life taste, i.e. meaning, nothing else. But with faith in Jesus, salted by Jesus’ understanding of life, one can find peace with others – and not be, as were the disciples, concerned to be ’the greatest’. John Kilgallen, S.J.
Mark 9, 30-50 no. 30 Nov. 7