Two observations are in order about this Gospel. First, we find the words of Jesus about service to others as the means to greatness in his Kingdom to be placed after the prediction of his passion and death and resurrection. As we know, Mark had a choice of materials to include in his Gospel: he chose this story about service. As we also know, Mark has the freedom to place most stories wherever he wanted to: he placed this story of service within the shadow of the second passion prediction. In fact, most all his moral teaching falls between the first and third passion predictions. For Mark, then, love and humility and service (even of the least) is known to be, in many situations, a cross to bear. One bears the cross to reach the greatness in the Kingdom of Heaven. The passion predictions of Jesus implicitly or explicitly imply not just suffering, but also resurrection to the fullest of lives. Service should be understood by the disciple as the means to reach resurrection, life. Life can never be separated from death, if death is done Jesus' way.
Second, service to the least is something we hear almost daily now, especially since all vocal organs of the Church urge justice and care for the least of society. Such is the work of discipleship. But service was not so popular in Mark's time. Greatness from earliest times was a goal of many in the Mediterranean and Roman world of our first century. All the more reason, then, that service of the least was a difficult and often conflicting practice; few cared sincerely for the poor. Jesus' words, uttered in Palestine, are now brought by Mark and his predecessors to Rome. These words should be considered a cross! But, again, if one looks on love as the key to life everlasting, love's object is unlimited: even the least will have been loved, and this by the greatest in the Kingdom of God.
John Kilgallen, S.J.