Readings: Wisdom 2:12, 17-20; Psalm 54, R. The Lord upholds my life.; James 3:16—4:3;
Gospel: Mark 9: 30-37
In his Aug. 19, 2020, address to a general audience, Pope Francis stated that “Making the poor a priority isn’t political, it’s the Gospel.” This was, is and will always be an imperative of our Christian faith.
This Sunday’s Gospel highlights this faith imperative.
“‘If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.’ 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 …’” (Mark 9:35-37)
Jesus addresses this teaching to his disciples after they failed to understand Jesus’ second prediction of His passion, death and resurrection. They failed because they did not seek clarification from Jesus. Their failure led to their arguing who was the greatest among themselves, a complete distortion of what Jesus just told them. This is the “mortal sin” Jesus meant to address and correct. He reorients human ambition or desire for worldly recognition and honor, and the predilection for worldly power.
Servant of all
To be first is to be “the servant of all.” Ambition is not to be aimed at rising to power and gaining fame, but to excel in serving others.
Jesus further defines this service to others or service to all. He calls a child and makes her the paragon recipient of genuine Christian service. The child represents someone who cannot repay those who help her; someone who is in need to be helped without any capacity to reciprocate.
This is one scriptural basis of the Church’s preferential option for the poor which is central to the Gospel and to the Church’s social teachings. “You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor, but you are giving back what is theirs. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone.”
“Not sharing your goods with the poor means robbing them and depriving them of their life. What we possess is not ours, but theirs.”
These two quotations, as radical as they may seem, are 4th- and 5th-century writings of St. Ambrose and St. John Chrysostom, respectively. Pope Francis cited them in his interview included in the book “This Economy Kills, Pope Francis on Capitalism and Social Justice” by Andrea Tornielli and Giacomo Galeazzi.
Pope Francis’ renewed call to put the poor front and center in the church in the midst of our current crisis is a call to a renewal of our mission.
There are three urgent issues we are asked to address in our Philippine context: one—and perhaps the primary long-term effort—the injustice of inequality in the distribution of material resources and access to opportunities for a better life, which is a global concern also; two, incompetence; and three, corruption.
To address these is service and preferential option for the poor. To take to task the agencies and officials who fail to address the injustice of inequality; whose incompetence led to confusion and added suffering; and whose corruption and/or tolerance of corruption robbed the people, especially the poor, of life-saving aid, is an imperative of our faith. It is not political, but it is Jesus’ call in today’s Gospel.
We are called to serve the poor. To provide food for the hungry, care and cure for the sick, jobs for the jobless, and to let them know they are not alone and are all necessary and imperative. But they are not enough. These are urgent humanitarian concerns and our responses are necessary palliative measures. To work for the distribution of resources and opportunities to benefit the poor must be achieved through structural and societal transformation efforts, programs and policies. This must be a partnership of the private and public sectors on a societal and even global level.
The Church must initiate and take some leadership role in doing this. Furthermore, the incompetence and corruption in the public sector must be resolved in order to convince the private sector to dedicate itself to a transformation toward greater equality.
We as Church, as individual Christians, and as a community of faith, first and foremost must be renewed in our spirit of service and in our preferential option for the poor. We must first act on our own to live this out, make it our way of life.
Then and only then do we become effective and credible agents of transformation in the public sphere and of the public sector. Then and only then can we and must demand from the public sector competence in service and the eradication of corruption.
“‘If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.’ Taking a child, He placed it in the their midst, and putting His arms around it, He said to them, ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me …’” —CONTRIBUTED INQ