Jesus was teaching His disciples and telling them, "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." But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question Him.
The words of Our Blessed Lord were clear enough, People of God, but the disciples seemed not understand what He was saying. Why? Surely it must have been because they did not want to accept that suffering should come into the life of Him Whom they acknowledged as the Christ of God, the glory of His People Israel, and their own, much loved and even more revered, Lord and Master.
It is still the same today: so many people are unwilling to accept that suffering can have any salutary role in their own lives as Catholic Christians, thinking it wrong and totally incomprehensible and that anyone living, or trying to live, a good life as a disciple of Jesus the Lord, should have to experience unjust and undeserved suffering; and consequently, when suffering comes into their lives they are easily scandalized and too frequently turn aside from discipleship in a greater or lesser degree.
Now, this they do because they have allowed themselves to become worldly in their thinking, as Jesus reproached Peter:
Get behind Me, Satan! You are an obstacle to Me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do. (Matthew 16:23)
Having become worldly in their thinking, such people soon come to love not the Lord so much as themselves, and the world for which success -- in its many variations such as plenty, power and pleasure -- is the only fruit of life considered as acceptable and fitting for them. In that way having begun as just weak Christians, fearful and tremulous at the very thought of any cross, they can easily end up as knowing participators in what is commonly referred to as life’s rat-race.
Saint Augustine has a remarkable sermon which touches on this subject, let me quote you something from it.
A sheep is weak, that is, it lacks courage, with the result that it may give way to temptations if they come upon the sheep when incautious and unprepared. The negligent shepherd does not say to a believer of that sort: ‘My son, when you come to serve God, take your stand in righteousness and fear, and make ready your soul for temptation.’ One who speaks thus, strengthens the weak and makes him strong instead of weak, so that when he has found faith he will not hope for this world’s prosperity. For if he has been taught to hope for this world’s prosperity, he will be corrupted by the prosperity itself: when adversities arrive, he is wounded, or perhaps utterly crushed. One who so builds is not building him on a rock, but setting him on sand. ‘The rock was Christ.’ Christians must imitate the sufferings of Christ, not seek for pleasure. What kind of men are such shepherds who, fearing to hurt (or displease) those they speak to, not only do not prepare them for imminent temptations, but even promise the happiness of this world, which Christ did not promise to the world itself?
Those who, in their promotion of self, would avoid all suffering either try to lie low throughout their lives, or else they seek to ignore what others may think and gradually learn to ride rough shod over what others may want. A life thus spent in promoting and ‘defending’ self makes life something of a battlefield where arguing and quarrelling are common weapons, and the subtle and secret art of maligning others is quickly and easily learnt, being less dangerous than openly accusing or condemning others regarded as opponents or rivals. Ultimately, of course, such protagonists in the ‘struggle for life’, come to embrace lies as their preferred version of the truth, and hate truth as being permanently twisted against themselves and to their detriment.
Let us now return to Jesus and learn how He persuaded His disciples to overcome their fears and change their ways:
They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, He began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.
Jesus knew what had been going on, literally behind His back, as He and His disciples had walked along, and:
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.”
In the ancient world children were thought little of, and frequently and publicly much abused. Therefore, when Jesus took one such person, so insignificant and singularly unimportant in the eyes of the world, and said:
Whoever receives one child such as this in My name, receives Me,
He thereby gave His disciples a picture that was so easy to remember as to be unforgettable, and yet at the same time one that offered them teaching of inexhaustible riches.
For those well-disposed and well-intentioned, for those -- above all -- small in their own conceit, even the smallest work is able to bring such a disciple to Jesus’ attention: there is nothing too small, nothing too insignificant, which -- when it is received, embraced, or done, for Jesus’ sake -- does not bring such a disciple close to his Lord. To be appreciated by the world one has to be, or try to make oneself, significant, great, successful; such endeavours for personal renown are, however, of no advantage in the Christian life, for God exalts the lowly and humble of heart, while pride -- inevitably and invariably -- separates from the Lord those who pursue it.
Again, dear People of God, observe what sort of relationship the disciples had with Jesus. We hear it said today: “Why are our churches so quiet? We should be greeting our friends and the Lord there!” Notice the disciples and Jesus in the Gospel passage:
They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, He began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?”
They had walked the way to Capernaum, but, quite obviously, they had not been walking like a group of mates chatting on the way, because, on their arrival at the house, Jesus had asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” He would appear to have been walking ahead and alone, and they had been following as a group. Why? There was, obviously, something very different about Jesus, nobody walked alongside Him, shoulder to shoulder, as His equal, His special companion, not even Peter or John. There was a distance between the disciples and their Lord: not one of separation, but rather, one of reverence. We can see the same attitude in another detail mentioned in the Gospel reading: for, though the disciples did not understand His teaching concerning His future Passion and Death:
they were afraid to question Him. HeHHhhhhhhHhhhh
Now this was not a fear such as we usually have in mind when we use the word: for it was a fear which in no way hindered them from following Him wherever He went. It was such a fear as rises in every humble human heart in the presence of the One who is far greater than they, the presence of the One of Whom Jesus spoke when referring to the Temple in Jerusalem, the pride and joy of the Jewish nation, known and admired far and wide in antiquity, whose very stones still fill modern engineers with admiration and amazement:
I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the Temple (and He is speaking to you at this very moment). (Matthew 12:6)
Before such a One, only the blindness of culpable ignorance and devilish pride could have rendered the Apostles incapable of feeling and of appreciating an instinctive fear rising in their hearts in His presence.
People of God, we should never be ashamed to fear the Lord, for it is proof of the authenticity of both our knowledge of ourselves and our appreciation of Him. However, let it be a fear like that of the disciples on the way, a fear which, far from repelling them, drew them after Him, irresistibly, wherever He went: pray that you too may progress along their way of discipleship, experiencing a like, reverential, compulsion to follow Jesus ever more faithfully, ever more closely, even though it lead to your sharing in His sufferings. Indeed, look beyond the disciples, and pray that your reverential fear may become ever more and more like the reverential love which Jesus Himself, our Blessed Lord and Saviour, had for His heavenly Father when He said:
You have heard Me say to you, 'I am going away and coming back to you.' If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, 'I am going to the Father,' for My Father is greater than I. (John 14:28)
Finally, may your appreciation of the glory of the Risen Lord in His Temple, the Church, lead you to shun all worldly attitudes of mind and heart, and fill you with a fearful reverence before her proclamation of His teaching and her dispensing of His grace; such a fear, such a reverence, that grows within you until it becomes a totally consuming love which can find its truest and fullest expression here on earth only in devoting and sacrificing self, in her service and for His glory:
That the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do. (John 14:31)
Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father. (John 10:17-18)