We have heard in the recent Sunday Gospel passages that Jesus has turned his attention to his circle of disciples and has presented them with a most direct and concise account of the fate that awaits him in Jerusalem.
The disciples not only fail to understand the Passion prediction but even fear to pursue the topic. Then they show the depth of their misunderstanding by arguing about who is the greatest among them (last week’s Gospel) and by trying to restrict the power of Jesus to their own narrow circle (this Sunday’s Gospel).
The disciples’ misunderstanding provides the occasion for Jesus to define true greatness as the humble service of others, to find God in the most apparently insignificant people (the little child), and to remind them that they cannot confine Jesus’ power to their own group.
The episode of the exorcist (“someone driving out demons”) in Sunday’s opening verses is remarkable for the attitude of tolerance it counsels toward those who are outside the circle of Jesus. It is notable that this advice appears shortly after the account of the disciples’ failure to cast out a demon in 9:14-29. Read in the context of a gospel written for a small Christian community facing persecution, this instruction would have encouraged a tolerant attitude toward adherents of other religious groups while reinforcing belief in the absolute centrality of the “name of Christ” in the economy of salvation.
Jesus promises a reward to those who show kindness toward his followers and challenges his own disciples to even greater perfection by avoiding whatever is contrary to life in God’s kingdom.
The disciples’ misunderstanding lead us to a greater understanding of both discipleship and Christology.
Follow the lead.