In todays gospel, the Lord Jesus is calling a crucial question. The word crucial here is selected carefully. For the word crucial comes from the Latin word crucis which means cross. Indeed, looming over this entire Gospel, is the Cross. Jesus makes the second prediction of his passion, death and resurrection. It is in the context of this teaching, that the Lord calls the crucial question for us, which, as we shall see, is the question about what is most central in our life, what matters most. Lets look at this gospel in Five stages.
I. Processional The gospel text opens by saying, Jesus and his disciples left from there began a journey through Galilee. This will be Jesus final journey through Galilee. For he is heading south, and unto his passion, death and resurrection
Do not miss, in this first stage, the importance of seeing our own life as a kind of procession, as a journey. We too, are making our journey through this life, our first and only journey. We too, with every step we take, move closer to our own death and, we pray, to our resurrection with the and unto Lord.
All along the way, we find things and meet people who will help us, or hinder us, in getting ready for our lifes true destination. There are things and people that will help us, and things and people that will distract us. Since this world is a fallen world, it is a sad, and perhaps unfair fact, that there will be more to distract us and to divert us into stupid, and foolish desires, pointless and silly path, and frivolous and harmful philosophies. More on this, in a moment.
For now, simply note that the Lord is on procession, he is headed for a critical destination, one that matters, one on which rests our very destiny. We too, are on such a path, and while we cannot save ourselves, we can surely harm ourselves. Our very destiny is caught up in decisions we make on lifes journey, on lifes path. Yes, we are on procession with Jesus.
II. Pain - The text says that though Jesus was journeying through Galilee, he did not wish anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples and telling them 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. And while the Lord surely says this in great confidence, knowing what the end shall ultimately be, we must not overlook the pain that lurks in this text.
That Jesus seeks to journey quietly through Galilee likely has reference to the fact that he does not want to be easily diverted by the often endless requests that often surrounded his public appearances. But one can also imagine here a portrait of pain. Sometimes, in our grief, we need to draw side, be with close friends and family. Large gatherings, are not for us.
Jesus is teaching the disciples some very difficult things, but they are not difficult simply as abstractions for Jesus, they what will happen to him personally. It is a painful and difficult passage that he must make as they draw close to Jerusalem. One could almost may imagine the grief in his soul as he speaks of himself, soon to be handed over, to be tortured and killed. Yes he will rise, but the cross comes before the crown.
As we shall see, the apostles, who are dealing with their own issues, are little able to console Jesus. They seem to draw back and get quiet. The text says, they were afraid to ask him any questions about this matter.
The text also implies that, as they drew back from Jesus, perhaps Jesus walked some distance from them, alone in his thoughts. For, later, he must ask them what they were discussing as they journeyed.
And thus, though we have to read be between the lines to see it, there seems a portrait here of Jesus in some pain, and somewhat alone in that pain.
And his pain was surely have been multiplied, by the selfish and egotistical discussion he must have known that the disciples were having. He asked them, as if he did not know, but surely he knew. They were debating about who was the greatest.
III. Pretentiousness - A very consistent theme in the Scriptures, is the theme of the inept response. Over and over again, Jesus will give a teaching, often with great solemnity, and in the very following lines, the response of the apostles is that they dont understand him at all! That they have completely missed the point. Inept it is, and even indecent, yes, pretentious, that having heard the Lord speak of his dying painfully at the hands of others, they should divert into a conversation about which of them was the greatest.
But before we scorn or laugh at the apostles, we must remember, we are the disciples. We do this very sort of thing, we divert our attention to all sorts of foolish things that dont matter, concerns about whos the big cheese, whos most important etc. How pointless and foolish these conversations, these concerns, are. How inept for us to would be disciples to be carried away in these sorts of concerns. But we do it every day, dozens of times a day.
This woefully inept and pretentious response of the disciples, and us, which only increased Jesus pain, leads him to call the crucial question. It leads us to the center point of this gospel.
IVPoint It is at this moment that Jesus calls the crucial question, a question not only for the Tweleve, but for us as well. The text said they came to Capernaum, and once inside the house, Jesus began to ask them, What were you arguing about on the way? As we shall see, they remain silent out of sheer embarrassment, for they had been discussing who among them was the greatest.
What were you arguing about on the way? Why is this a crucial question? Perhaps if we see the question and other formats it will help. For the Greek word which is translated here as arguing is διαλογίζομαι (dialogizomai) which means to reason, consider, ponder, wonder, or debate. The dia, at the beginning of the word, is an intensifier and indicates the kind of back-and-forth. And hence we get the concept of a debate, or an argument.
With this in mind, perhaps we can hear the Lord asking us this question in this way: What are you discussing as you make your journey in life? What are you passionate about? What peaks your interest? What engages you, and what do you choose to engage others about? What is of central interest to you? What is going on in your mind all day long?
And thus we can see that the Lord is inviting us to consider what in our life is most crucial, what is most central, what is most essential. And how would you and I answer these questions? Would we, like the Twelve, be horribly embarrassed to actually answer the question in an honest and truthful way?
Yes, honestly, it is a sad and embarrassing reality that so many of us who call ourselves disciples are overwhelmingly preoccupied with things that are futile, passing, of little real in importance, frivolous, and often times, just plain stupid. And even things that have some relative importance, get an undo amount of our attention. Meanwhile, things that do matter most, the things that matter most to God, such as our salvation, our knowledge of him, our preparation for death and judgment, sin, repentance, love, justice, mercy, what is true, good, decent, virtuous, and beneficial in salvation, prayer, the frequent reception of the sacraments, and things spiritual
, all these things rank pitifully low in the lives of most, even those who call themselves Christians and disciples.
Four hours for a football game but no time for prayer. We find time for everything else, and so little time for God and what matters to God. We can get so passionate about politics, sports, or what some silly actor or television show has recently featured, but we have little passion or care that so many souls are lost, that so many are deeply rooted in unrepentant sin, dont know why they were made, and dont know the Lord or his glorious Gospel. The slightest scare regarding our physical health sends us reeling, meanwhile our spiritual health goes so easily unattended.
Yes, what are we discussing, what are we thinking, as we make our journey? It is a crucial question. It says a lot about where our heart lies.
It is a crucial question, because it is asked in the shadow of the Cross. It is the crucis (cross) in crucial. And in calling it a crucial question, it is not only an indicator of how central the question is, how important, but it also suggests something of a healing remedy. For simply hearing how embarrassingly foolish most of our thought life really can be, is not enough for us simply change. Our minds are very weak, and we may resolve to consider more important things, only to find ourselves, ten minutes later, once again focused on foolish things.
How is the cross a kind of remedy for our disordered thinking? Perhaps the answer is best stated in one word, remember. The word remember, should ring strongly in our ears, for it is said in every Mass at the words of consecration. At the Last Supper, and at every Mass, Jesus says through the mouth of the priest Do this, in remembrance of me.
What does it mean to remember? To remember, means to have present to your mind and heart, what Jesus Christ has done for you, by dying for you, and rising for you, to have these truths so deeply impressed in your mind and heart that youre different, and that youre grateful. To remember, means to have it finally dawn on us that the Son of God died for me. And as this truth begins to impact my mind and heart, I can never be the same. And my heart breaks, and I weep for my sins, and a love and healing begin to rush in on me, and Im changed. Im different, and grateful.
This is what it means to remember. It is a transformative remembering, a remembering which changes me. It is a remembering that gives me a new mind and heart, a remembering that gives me new priorities, a greater love for the things of God. It is a remembering, that makes me more forgetful of things of the world and more connected to the things of God.
Thus, in calling a crucial question, is not the Lords intent to humiliate us, but to open us to his graces by, first of all, pointing to our need for it, and then, leading us to the power of his cross that puts sin to death and brings alive a whole new life for us.
Do not miss this crucial question, what are you discussing what are you thinking about on the way? Answer the Lord honestly and let him go to work.
V. Prescription At the heart of the Lords crucial question is a diagnosis of our wrongful priorities and worldly thinking when it comes to most things.
In this particular Gospel, the disordered thinking surrounds wrongful notions of importance, leadership, and greatness. Thus, Lord directly addresses the wrongful notions of the disciples by presenting a teaching which is deeply paradoxical. The paradox is that the greatest are not those who are served, but those who serve.
We tend to think of greatness in terms of how much money a person makes, how much authority they have, how much influence, where they live, etc. None of these things matter at all to God.
We are forever impressed by the rich and the famous, but God looks to the lowly, the poor, and those who serve. The word paradox refers to those things which are contrary to the usual way of thinking. This teaching of the Lord is very paradoxical from any worldly perspective.
As an illustration go with me to a great $10,000 a plate fundraising dinner. At the head table are some very famous people, perhaps theyre politicians, perhaps movie stars, perhaps sports heroes et al. The typical person will walk into this fancy dinner and their eyes will be drawn to those whom they consider the great ones, those seated at the head table, the glitterati.
But as God walks into the same dinner to whom is his eye drawn? Where does he see greatness? Is it not to those who wait tables? Would God run to the rope line for a signature, or would he go into the kitchen and thank the cook, thank the dishwashers, thank those who waited on tables, and cleared dirty dishes?
Yes, it is all very paradoxical, and it puts to the lie all of our worldly obsessions. When we appear before him someday God will not care how much money we made (except that we were generous to the poor). He will not be impressed with the square footage of our home, the brand of our cars or how wide the plasma screen TV in our great room was. He certainly wont care who our favorite sports hero was, or what team we rooted for, or we thought shouldve won the last go-round of American Idol.
No, to Him, what will most impress Him is whether we served, whether we loved, whether we knew him, and humbly sought to live his truth. He will not care whether we powerfully called the shots, but he will care that we embraced his vision, lived the truth, and charitably cared for others, serving them in the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Did we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe and naked, harbor the homeless, visit the sick, ransom the captives, and bury the dead? Did we comfort the afflicted, did we instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish sinners, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offenses willingly, and pray for the living and the dead? Do we humbly submit to the Lord in our life seeking to live chastely, curbing and controlling our anger, as well as our greed?
Did we understand that living in this way is a way that serves others, and serves Gods kingdom, or did we attempt to grow great in our own estimation and serve only ourselves?
In short, were we rich and what matters to God?
The greatest are those who serve. Those who have others in mind, who seek not their own glory and will, but the glory and will of God, and the goodness of others. This is greatness to God, everything else is foolish to him.
In the end, the question rings, What are you discussing, what are you thinking, as you make your way through this life? It is the crucial question. And only the cross and its power can fix our foolishness. For too easily we are like the disciples debating among ourselves about who was the greatest, whos the big cheese, whos in charge, who gets to call the shots.
What ARE you discussing as you make your way? A Crucial Question.
The Old Spiritual says simply Fix me Lord, fixed me. Fix me for my long white robe, fix me Jesus fix me. Fix me for my journey home, fix me Jesus fix me