Fr. Patrick Fitzgerald-Lombard, O.Carm., is parish priest of the parish of St. Thomas of Canterbury, Mayfield, Sussex. He is a member of the Aylesford Community. Today, Fr. Patrick is reflecting on the readings from yesterday's Mass. Please read Fr Patrick's introduction on these reflections before carrying on:
“After leaving the mountain” is a rather artificial opening to this Sunday’s Gospel. Jesus and his disciples actually left the mountain some twenty verses previously.
This Sunday we gave again a gap to be covered. From this Sunday, the Gospels will be more or less continuous until the healing of Bartimaeus and the departure from Jericho. The mountain is the mountain of the Transfiguration which I presented as the climax to last Sunday’s Gospel. This special scene is also the transition to what follows in the story, the journey to Jerusalem. Peter’s wish to build the three booths on the mountain is an indication that he wants to hold on to the great experience. That can be our wish too when we go on pilgrimage to visit a shrine, a holy place. Yet this is only a stage in the journey. It is with the memories of their experience, of hearing the voice telling them to listen to the Son, that that they now to come down the mountain and join the other disciples. Coming down the mountain, there is a short discussion about the role of the prophet Elijah. They then find a great crowd with the other disciples who are right out their depth. The boy has all the symptoms of epilepsy and it is notable how Mark repeats the full details of his condition. Yet the disciples could not do the exorcism even though they had been given authority over unclean spirits earlier in the story. Jesus immediately calls them faithless ones. By contrast, the father with his cry “I believe, help my unbelief” is typical of those in this Gospel who make a brief appearance as one of those who get it right. Being close to Jesus all the time is no guarantee and so the disciples are constantly failing. They do not have the required faith or understanding in Jesus. This episode concludes the episodes which began at Caesarea Philippi. Here we have Mark at his story telling best; Matthew’s version is less than half the length. Remarkably this powerful episode is not read on Sunday in any of the three years of the cycle. A new stage then opens in our Gospel this Sunday with the travel notice, telling us that Jesus and his disciples are now really on the move southwards. A final visit to Capernaum follows. While on their way there, Jesus tells his disciples about his fate for a second time. Private instruction of the disciples has already been a feature of this Gospel. Repetition of phrases like "teaching and telling them" is a feature of the style of this Gospel. This one is the shortest of the three, no more than a notice that he will be put to death and then rise again after three days. Once again the disciples don’t understand and were afraid to ask. The relationship between Jesus and the disciples he had called continues to be uneasy.
It is this first half of the Gospel which is accompanied by the reading from the Wisdom of Solomon, part of a poem which speaks of the righteous one and his challenge to the wicked. Reading this with Jesus in mind as the righteous one give us to a deeper understanding of the passion. Jesus is course the perfectly righteous man doing the will of his Father. There's not much resurrection in the reading though. Once Jesus has predicted his fate, there follows in all three predictions a consideration of the status of the disciples. It's a reminder of how much they have to learn. First we are told they were afraid to ask him, possibly because Jesus has previously commented on their lack of understanding. Having arrived at Capernaum and entered the house so that they are in private , Jesus asks them about their argument “on the way”. This phrase is repeated as the silence of the disciples is stated. It is a reminder that the way is leading to Jerusalem, for the disciples as much as for Jesus. It is also therefore the way of discipleship. What they are reluctant to admit is their stress on who will be greatest. They have yet to learn that the greatness of a disciple as of Jesus himself turns upside down the values of this world. This introduces the theme of service which will come to its climax towards the end of the journey: “The Son of Man came to serve and not to be served and to give his life as a ransom for many”. Service, therefore is always the priority. The importance of this is highlighted by the formality of Jesus sitting to teach as for the Sermon on the Mount.. It is a detail which is typical of Mark but not found in Matthew or Luke, that Jesus takes the child into his arms. The child becomes the symbol of what it means to be with Jesus.
The final verse of this Sunday’s Gospel can be translated using either "welcome" or "receive". Children are open to the world, to receive what is on offer. At the same time, they and everyone else must be received. "Receive" is probably therefore a better choice than the more usual "welcome". A child had no status in the ancient world, he (or she, some respectable translations use "it"!) stands for the little ones (verse 42) to whom the Christian community must always be open "in my name". Thus the chain of reception goes through Jesus to the one who sent him, God his Father. So we are confident with the psalm that we have God for our help and the Lord upholds our lives.