Msgr. Joseph G. Prior

Msgr. Joseph G. Prior

(See the readings for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 20)

A story appeared in the May 11, 2002 edition of the Taipei Times. The story was about Liu Kuei-lan and her son Hu Jen-chuan. When Hu Jen-chuan was 2 years old he suffered a fall. He fell into a coma for six days. When he awoke he could not speak or move. Liu, unable to afford a care facility, decided to care for him herself. Hu was not able to move so his mother would have to carry him often so that he would not develop bed sores. She had done this often and had fallen and broken bones while carrying him on her back.

You see, Liu had been doing this since her son was 2 years old. At the time of the article he was 32 and she was 65. When asked by the reporter how she could possibly continue to carry Hu she replied: “He ain’t heavy; he’s my son.”

The story of Liu is a story of immense love. The love she has for her son could certainly be described as selfless and heroic. He was the person most in need in her life; she met those needs at great personal cost, thinking little of herself while giving him wholehearted care and attention.

In this Sunday’s reading of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is gathered with his disciples. He places a child in their midst. He chooses a child because of the needs they have. Besides food, drink and shelter, a child needs to be cared for, to be taught, to be protected and most of all, the child needs to be loved.

Jesus chooses to associate the child with himself as he tells the disciples: “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.” The bond of union between Jesus and the child is reflected in his action: Jesus puts his arms around the child before he speaks. He holds the child; a sign of love, protection and care.

What’s more, when Jesus speaks to the disciples he speaks of welcoming the child “in my name,” which is a reference that speaks of the child belonging to Jesus. All belong to Jesus for through his passion, death and resurrection. He becomes the Lord of life. In baptism we become children of God and brothers and sisters of one another, in one family, in one kingdom, with one Lord. Thus our love and care for others, especially those in need, is reflective of and is an integral part of our love for God. Jesus himself is the witness of this love. He shows us how to love. The context of this saying of Jesus brings this to the fore.

Jesus has just predicted his passion. He tells the disciples that “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” His passion will bring to life the passage that serves as the first reading for Sunday’s liturgy, from the Book of Wisdom.

In that passage, the “wicked” are positioned and plot against the “just one.” They say: “With revilement and torture let us put the just one to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him.”

Jesus is the “just one” who has faith in his Father. Evil will run its course on him but he will not give in; he will be gentle and loving. He will sacrifice himself in love.

St. Mark tells us that the disciples do not understand what Jesus is talking about. This becomes clear as they continue their journey with Jesus. Some of the disciples began arguing among themselves about who was the greatest one among them. Jesus confronts them on this and says: “The one who wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”

True greatness comes in laying down one’s life in loving service, sacrificing one’s own needs, wants and desires for the good of others. At this point, the disciples clearly did not understand this for they begin to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest.

The Letter of St. James speaks of the destructive force of this attitude, which can be described as “jealousy and selfish ambition.” This leads to “disorder and every foul practice.” The love that Jesus offers and demands is the opposite. He calls for self-emptying not self-service. This love, like the “wisdom from above,” is “first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity.”

St. Paul, in the First Letter to the Corinthians, describes it in these familiar terms: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
When Jesus calls us to welcome the child, he is calling us to love.

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.