Monkeying around – Tuesday, 7th Week in ordinary time – Mark 9:30-37
Often in life our pre occupations, be they personal goals or personal agendas can deter us from seeing the bigger picture. Jesus, the son of God was in the midst of the twelve. He has been sharing with them the bigger picture of the kingdom of God and how achieving that goal will fly in the face of the way the world operates.
In chapter eight, Jesus spelt out clearly that the Messiah was not their home-grown version of a mighty warrior or a magician but a suffering king who be rejected and put to death. He took great pains to back this with a teaching on discipleship. This discipleship involved self-denial, embracing death on a cross and a constant and daily following of the long and narrow road.
One chapter later, Jesus reiterates this suffering in the hope that his message has hit hard and hit home; ironically it had not. Chapter 9:32 tells us that they had “failed to understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.” Jesus was no tyrant with a whip, so their fear could only mean one thing, they were self-absorbed with their own agenda and could not empathies with him and his kingdom of suffering. Peter was still clinging on the keys of the kingdom and now we are told (9:34) that they had been arguing with one another as to who among them was the greatest.
There is an interesting anecdote that is told as to how hunters of old used to trap monkeys. Rather than chasing them up a tree or shooting arrows from below, they’d put a heavy glass jar with a narrow neck on the floor, with a large ripe orange. They’d then step back and hide, waiting for the unsuspecting animal to approach.
When it did, the monkey would reach inside, clench a fist around the orange, and try to pull it out. However, the narrow neck of the jar would stop the poor monkey from getting its hand out! It would pull and pull, but to no avail. There was simply no way to get its hand out of the jar without releasing the food. They would refuse to let go of what seemed to be a meal only to become a meal for the hunter.
The disciples could not let go of honours that men bestowed on each other; who is the richest, who is the prettiest, who is the wisest, who is the greatest. So, Jesus did what he did best; he taught them once again, “whoever wants to be fist must be last and servant of all.” This time he backed his teaching with a session of ‘show and tell.’ Taking a little child, he put that child in their midst. This is what they were to become if they were to be his disciples; not childish but childlike.
William Barclay writes, “It was not that Jesus abolished ambition. Rather he recreated and sublimated ambition. For the ambition to rule, he substituted the ambition to serve. For the ambition to have things done for us, he substituted the ambition to do things for others.” Ambition that pleases God is shown by humble service of others. Greatness is found not in lording it over other people, but in being the servant of the most insignificant people in society; the poor, the weak, the forgotten, the despised.