GOD’S GIVING – Mark 9:35 September 23, 2012 Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
GOD’S GIVING Mark 9:35
September 23, 2012
Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
In 1939 the Nazi panzers overran Poland with deadly speed. A Franciscan monastery was one of the victims of this swift and deadly assault. Maximilian Mary Kolbe and Franciscan friars were arrested, and then released in less than three months.
In 1941 Kolbe was again arrested. Now the Nazis’ purpose was to liquidate the select ones, the leaders with an education. The end came quickly; in Auschwitz three months later, after beatings and humiliations, a prisoner escaped. The camp commandant announced that ten prisoners would die because of the one prisoner who got away.
The commandant ordered the prisoners to stand in line. He chose at random saying, “This one. That one.” Prisoner number 16670, that is, Maximilian Kolbe, stepped from the line saying, “I would like to take that man’s place. He has a wife and children.” The commandant inquired, “Who are you?” Kolbe responded, “A priest.” So the commandant ordered Father Kolbe to go with the other selected nine.
In the “block of death,” underground and separated, they were ordered to strip naked. The slow starvation began in darkness. There was no screaming; instead, the prisoners sang hymns. In time, six died. Wishing to use the cell for other prisoners, the Nazi captors killed the four who remained. Kolbe lifted his arm to receive the bite of the hypodermic needle, filled with carbolic acid. Along with the others, his captors burned Kolbe’s body. He was beatified in 1971 and canonized in 1982. He gave his life in order to save the life of another.
“If anyone wishes to be first,” says Jesus in today’s gospel, “he shall be the last of all and the servant of all” (Mark9:35). At the time of the gospels, society prized status and honor. Indeed, at the house in Capernaum, Jesus asks the apostles this: “’What were you arguing about on the way?’ But [the Apostles] remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.’” And now Jesus instructs them. I suppose that instruction had a sting to it, for Jesus was intimating that these Apostles were thinking as humans, and not thinking after the manner of the giving God.
Repeatedly, Jesus had told His Apostles of what awaited Him in Jerusalem, and yet they were still thinking of Jesus’ Kingdom in terms of an earthly kingdom, and of themselves as His chief ministers of state. When Jesus asked them what they had been arguing about, they had nothing to say. It was the silence of shame. They had nothing to say for themselves. So long as they had thought that Jesus was not listening and that Jesus had not seen, the argument about who should be greatest seemed fair enough, but when that argument had to be stated in the presence of Jesus, it was seen as unworthy.
Maximilian Kolbe acted in a literal manner as Jesus had described. Kolbe acted as a servant who preferred that the other man live; Kolbe acted after the manner of Jesus. “No one has greater love than this,” says Jesus, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
Saint Paul exhorted us to that cast of mind: “Have among yourselves,” writes Paul, “the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
Did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness;
And found human in appearance, he humbled himself,
Becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name
That is above every name, that at the name of Jesus
Every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Kolbe, in offering to take death in place of the other man, acted as a Christian, that is, Kolbe did what he realized that Christ had done. Kolbe, after the manner of Jesus Christ, emptied himself of his strong and natural desire to breathe air and life. As Christ in His triune life set aside His godliness and took on human nature, so Kolbe set aside his human longing and took on the livery of death.
Most likely, you and I will never be called to Kolbe’s moment of greatness. Yet we are aware of our benefitting from Christ offering Himself for us. Furthermore, we regularly find ourselves recipients of God’s favor. We grow beyond a minimal observance of the commandments of God and of the Church to a life lived under the influence of the Holy Spirit. After Christ’s death and resurrection, the Apostles receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. God’s gifts continue to enable us to live a godly life.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon [us]:
A spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
A spirit of counsel and of strength,
A spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2).
By such gifts, you and I remain open to a godly influence. The Lord draws us to Himself, first by freeing us from evil’s domination, and then by positively arousing us to virtuous acts. “Be perfect,” says our Lord, “just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
The Lord has gifted us so greatly, first by redemption and then by the Spirit’s gifts. Let us respond to the Lord’s calling. Amen.