FROM A READING FOR SEPT. 20, 25TH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
'Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?...You covet something and cannot obtain it, so you engage in disputes and conflicts...' -- James 4:1-2


Sunday's Gospel (Mark 9:30-37) gives us the second of Mark's three ways of dying and rising with Jesus.

In last week's passage, Mark's Jesus told His followers they must carry their "taus:" be totally open to whatever God asks of them. This week, He becomes more specific about the implications of such openness.

Following the same pattern of predication, misunderstanding and clarification, the evangelist begins by having Jesus talk about His future arrest, death and resurrection -- but quickly adds, "They did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question Him."

It's clear they didn't understand because "on the way" they were "discussing among themselves who was the greatest."

To the amazement of the Twelve, Jesus first confronts their ambitions ("Those who wish to be first shall be the last of all and the servants of all"), then presents them with an "audio-visual."

Show and tell
"Taking a child, He placed it in their midst, and, putting His arms around it, He said to them, '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.'"

No matter what part of Mark's Gospel we're reading, we must always go back to chapter one. There, at the beginning of His public ministry, Jesus not only announces the good news that "God's kingdom is at hand," He also tells us how to surface God working effectively in our everyday lives.

We must "repent:" totally change our value systems. We'll only begin noticing God present in those we meet and the situations we experience after we achieve a 180-degree switch in what we believe is important in life: when we start focusing on people and things we never before noticed. In this particular passage, that's when we take our eyes off ourselves and put them on others.

If our life's goal is always to become the head high honcho, people who crisscross our lives will simply be stepping stones to reaching that end. If some individuals, like children, really can't help us achieve the notoriety for which we yearn, just slough them off to the side. Anyone useless to me is useless, period.

All are welcome
As an essential part of repentance, Mark's convinced that those committed to dying and rising with Jesus will eventually discover no one is useless. Each person we encounter throughout our lives will present us with another way to surface the risen Jesus among us.

This insight parallels the insight some Jews received about 100 years before Jesus' birth. During that period, the Wisdom (2:12,17-20) author, for instance, began to understand there's a life after this life. Once that shift in their faith happened, God's biblical people started zeroing in on more than just the here and now. There was a future to consider, a time when even some of "those condemned to a shameful death" would be taken care of by Yahweh. Life doesn't end with our physical deaths.

The writer of the letter of James (3:16-4:3) is convinced that changing our life's focus will change our personalities. We always have the possibility of switching from jealous, ambitious individuals to peaceful, gentle, compliant members of a vibrant Christian community.

Of course, as Mark reminds readers in Sunday's Gospel, we first have to be committed to dying and rising as Jesus defines those two terms. Among other things, we have to be willing to look into a mirror and notice the person standing next to us before we notice ourselves.