The Book of Wisdom was written in the century before Jesus was born at a time when the Middle Eastern world was being strongly influenced by Greek culture and language and the Jewish faith was under threat. There was a real concern whether it was possible for the people of Israel to remain faithful to the teachings and traditions of their ancestors in a world being seduced by Greek civilization. There is a similar concern being expressed today in our own country about some of the African languages and cultures that are being lost as English increasingly becomes the lingua franca. In the Book of Wisdom, the author cleverly uses the knowledge, science, philosophy, language and poetry of Greek culture to demonstrate, argue and defend the excellence of the Jewish faith. The author uses a style of argument that first presents the point of view of those he sees as being opposed to the Jewish religion, the godless ones, and then responds in his own words reflecting the wisdom and values of Jewish belief and tradition.
The extract we heard in the first reading paints a bleak picture of the godless ones expressing their extreme lack of respect for God and for the values of people who are good and virtuous.
The words are sadly not an exaggeration and are echoed in the verbal abuse that Jesus received when he was hanging on the cross.
“If the virtuous man is God’s son, God will take his part and rescue him from the clutches of his enemies.” (Wis 2:18) ……. The bystanders at the Cross said “He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he wants him. For he said ‘I am the Son of God.’ (Mat 27:43).
In the Gospel reading, we find Jesus and the disciples on their way to Capernaum in Galilee. We’re told that they are travelling alone because Jesus is in serious teaching mode. His ministry on earth is fast drawing to a close and he wants and needs this group of disciples, his chosen group, to be prepared for and to understand what lies ahead. For the second time he tells them that he is going to be put to death and that after three days he will rise again. A subtle nuance in this second prediction is the suggestion that he will be betrayed. Judas was probably already having his doubts about the Messiah and Jesus probably knew what was on his mind.
Mark tells us that the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about and were afraid to ask. Perhaps they were afraid to express concern or anxiety in case Jesus rebuked them as he had Peter not long before or perhaps they just didn’t want to have to think about something that was quite unthinkable; Jesus being put to death. It seems fair to assume that the very notion of resurrection was well beyond their understanding. They had no idea what was coming and perhaps it was just as well. They argued instead about which of them was the greatest. Peter, John and James had recently spent time with Jesus on the mountain and perhaps some of the others were feeling offended that they’d been excluded. While this may seem strange to us, in their culture, as is still true in Middle-Eastern culture today, status and honor are of vital and primary importance in their social structure and most certainly something worth discussing.
Children in the culture of the disciples had zero status and that’s the point Jesus is making when he calls them together are asks them to see the child as their role model. This would have been a very shocking and painful lesson for them – and incredibly difficult to accept; almost certainly impossible without the grace of the Holy Spirit.
We too can look at the child for guidance in our discipleship – and will also find this extremely difficult and I suggest almost impossible without the Holy Spirit.
A child is dependent and trusts innocently and completely. Can we say that about our relationship with God our Father? And if that is not a true reflection of our faith, on whom then, or on what, are we dependent? And if we don’t trust God, what is it then that we believe?
A child is open to love and loves easily. Children are also vulnerable to the pain that often comes with love but are open to love again and again. This vulnerability is commonly one of our greatest fears and we build walls around our hearts to protect ourselves from the pain of love in our relationships with each other and with God. We teach ourselves to love less rather than to love more.
Children are keen to learn and they trust their parents and teachers to teach them properly. Do we have the childlike desire to keep learning? Do we have teachable hearts to learn about Jesus and our faith through scripture and the experience of the Church? Who do we trust to guide us properly in our learning? We’ll not learn much about discipleship from a Dan Brown novel.
Children are accepting and tolerant of people. They are interested and curious about the differences between people but they don’t judge and discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, age or social standing.
Children are untainted by pride and self-importance; an expression of humility worthy of a disciple.
Children have a sense of awe and wonder about the world around them; creation is a source of surprise and astonishment rather than a scientific puzzle that needs a solution.
Children enjoy the moment! Their hearts delight in the miracle of this moment and they don’t let the uncertainties of tomorrow steal their joy.
Children are forgiving and don’t hold grudges.
There is much we can learn about discipleship from children.
As an exercise in the week ahead we could imagine ourselves as children walking on the road to Capernaum with Jesus.
What is he saying to us?