1. “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” (Mark 9:31). Considering this theme that Jesus began after He asked the disciples who did they say He was, one has to wonder what His disciples were up to. Jesus is speaking about His passion, death, and resurrection. And they start talking about who is the greatest disciple.
2. I believe the reason they did this is because what Jesus said was just too terrible for them to comprehend at the time. They certainly did not understand it. And the Gospel indicates that they were afraid to ask. We cannot really blame them for their fear. It was not usual for a Rabbi or any other leader to be so open about the likelihood of their getting rejected and killed, especially considering the fact that Jesus was so intent on doing the will of God. In their way of thinking, if you did God’s will, He would protect you and you would be successful. If Jesus was indeed the Christ- the Anointed One of God- then how could He possibly get rejected? It would seem more appropriate that God would install Him as a great and powerful king, reestablishing the glory of Israel. Worldly failure and a brutal death did not seem much like how God did things.
3. Another thing to consider is that in those days, if the leader of a group got killed, then his followers pretty much were treated the same way, unless they could run and hide. Thus, the prediction of Jesus’ death meant that they had to be ready for the same. Considering Jesus’ show of power and authority, they could not fathom it. They had no idea what “resurrection from the dead” meant. But they knew that you had to die first to have it happen.
4. And so instead of meditating on Jesus’ words, they chose instead to engage in worldly squabbles over who was the best disciple. In other words, who would be at Jesus’ right hand when He became the King? Just like in many offices, organizations, or families of today, the disciples were struggling to determine who would have the power of the kingdom, or the attention of Jesus.
5. Although some ambition can motivate a person to improve themselves or strive for greatness, sometimes this ambition becomes selfish and even destructive. For example, children might pound any brother or sister who dares enter their room. Or an office worker might strive to get the most underlings or a bigger office so that they appear to be more important. Or maybe someone stops cooperating with a coworker because they feel threatened by their presence. There are those who must always get their way or others will suffer the heat of their anger. There are those who lie or spread rumors or present others in a bad light so as to make themselves look better.
6. Saint James aptly describes such sins and their consequences. That is, selfish ambition usually leads to the doom of those who practice it, although they may enjoy brief success. Those who are ruled by their passions are in fact slaves. And a slave does not inherit anything.
7. To remedy such selfishness, Jesus prescribes humility. That is, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). Jesus did not denounce their desire for greatness. Rather, He instructed them as to how to achieve it in truth. Jesus’ prescription of humility and self emptying service was not merely a suggestion, nor was it a order that He gave only to others. Humble service is at the heart of the Incarnation of the Word of God as Man. The all powerful God, Creator of the Universe, all knowing, all good, without defect or weakness emptied Himself to become one of us. Jesus submitted to the weaknesses of infancy and human growth. Jesus submitted to the rule of Mary and Joseph in the home, though He was their Lord and God. Jesus walked when He could flown or just appeared places. He permitted Himself to be hungry and thirsty and tired, and rejected and condemned and crucified- all so that we could be saved. Did the human race deserve salvation? No. God did it out of love. And to accomplish it, Jesus emptied Himself.
8. So when Jesus calls us to the same humility and service of others, even those who are vulnerable and cannot do anything for us, He is asking us to be just like Him.