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Jaime L. WatersAugust 20, 2021
Photo by Jon Tyson via Unsplash

Today’s readings invite us to refine and improve how we live and lead. The second reading and the Gospel offer guidance on interacting with one another, emphasizing humility, service and hospitality as characteristic actions of followers of Christ.

‘If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.’ (Mk 9:35)

Liturgical day
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Wis 2:12-20; Ps 54; Jas 3:16-4:3; Mk 9:30-37

What can you do to make the church more welcoming?

How can you become a better leader?

In the second reading from James, wisdom is connected with action. As in wisdom texts of the Old Testament, which we hear in the first reading, wisdom is demonstrated through behaviors, not only through knowledge and intelligence. James notes that actions like jealousy, selfishness and violence are unwise, as they damage oneself and others. Instead, true wisdom requires peace, gentleness and mercy. The Letter of James addresses a community in conflict, criticizing disputes, oppression and disregard for vulnerable groups. At a time when communities seem very polarized, James inspires us to work toward the common good for all people in order to strengthen our global community.

The Gospel reading from Mark offers important insights on leadership within the community of faith. Echoing last week’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims his second Passion prediction in Mark, and the disciples are still unclear on what it means. In typical Markan fashion, the early leaders often show a lack of understanding.

After traveling to Capernaum, Jesus asks the group why they were arguing along the way. The assumption might be that their conversation relates to Jesus’ prediction; instead, the group was arguing about who was the greatest among them. Their focus on themselves rather than the significance of Jesus and his forthcoming crucifixion reveals some of the shortcomings of the early leaders.

To correct this tendency, Jesus teaches the apostles about leadership, telling them that the first must be last, and that they must serve others. Jesus has already demonstrated this through his healing ministry and by his miraculous deeds like feeding the multitudes with loaves and fish. Yet his closest followers seem unable or unwilling to recognize the importance of humility and service in their ministry. Notably, Jesus also emphasizes hospitality. He brings a child into their midst saying, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.” Jesus’ inclusion of the child shows the range of the Gospel, and it suggests an openness and tenderness in approaching the community.

Today we are reminded to promote the common good, be humble, serve others and welcome people into the faith community. Religious leaders should heed Jesus’ words and reflect on their implications. Unfortunately, some leaders have not consistently been models for humility, service or hospitality. In recent times, some have become preoccupied with policing access to the Eucharist, emphasizing particular kinds of unworthiness rather than helping us all to draw nearer to Christ through the sacrament and throughout life. Likewise, some leaders have issued statements regarding L.G.B.T.Q. people that serve to isolate and exclude rather than welcome. We are all called to model the principles of the Gospel, and when leaders fail in this regard, it is important for the rest of us to step up and create the church that we hope to see, founded not on exclusion but on love.

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