Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 2:12, 17-20
James 3:16-4:3
Mark 9:30-37

In Church circles, most people don’t admit to the sort of ambition Jesus’ disciples displayed on the way to Capernaum. The common wisdom is that those who aspire to be bishops or cardinals should never be appointed to those positions. Nowadays, I don’t think many priests are looking to be bishops! The truth is that if they have those aspirations they are too sophisticated to tell us about them. Little wonder that when Jesus asked the disciples about their conversation, they remained silent.  It seems they didn’t understand the basic job description. Today’s bishops do. Despite all that Jesus had said, his followers did not grasp the cost of discipleship; they did not know what it would mean to follow the one who would be handed over to be killed.

A recent convert told me that she has discovered that it isn’t easy being Catholic. She was surprised and, oddly enough, not disappointed. It was the first time I heard someone say, “You get what you pay for,” when speaking about Catholicism. It would be naïve to think that only those who are leaders will pay the price.

Today’s Gospel is not meant to deter us from the ambition of following him, but the message could not be clearer. If you follow Jesus, you follow the way of the cross. All of us have discovered at least some dimension of the cost of discipleship in our lives. For some, it is learning that there are indeed those who dislike Catholics simply because they are Catholics. It is discovering the “hard teachings” of the Gospel and the Magisterium and knowing how different our values are from much of the world. For still others, it is uncovering the realization that sometimes those of us who call ourselves believers are not always united to one another. The loving tension between the institutional Church and the movement which is the People of God sometimes seems not so loving at all.

Jesus knew — and told his followers — that he would die for the world and atone for the sins of all of us.  To be first, we must be last, and “the servant of all.” Service of the Lord is more than simple duty; it is anticipation of another’s needs. When we love another, our service is seen in our constant seeking to fulfill the other’s will, even before it is known; for us, this is where the difficulty usually begins. Were the gift of faith, a gift of servitude and bondage, we would always know what we should do. Instead, our freedom demands that we continually choose. Choice requires courage, power, self-control, and above all else — love.