TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2021)
Readings:Isaiah 53:10-11Psalms 33:4-5, 18-20, 22Hebrews 4:14-16Mark 10:35-45
The ambition of the disciples was not unknown to Jesus. You will recall a recent gospel when the disciples were “arguing among themselves about who was the greatest.” One could imagine that by this point Jesus’ patience would be wearing very thin. After all, for three times He has shared (‘predicted’) with His disciples that He “would suffer and die, and on the third day be raised,” making it clear that Jesus was not the kind of Messiah that most people of His day expected! Yet, even those that were privileged to walk with Him and hear Him preach, frequently firsthand, appeared to miss the point.
We often see John and James, and Peter, being treated to the most private and personal of Jesus’ experiences, but that triangular friendship was tainted with ambitious competition, with a dose of self-interest and pride, clearly shown by the attempt of James and John in today’s gospel to secure for themselves the places of honor in that new kingdom Jesus had come to establish: “Grant that in Your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” Even the less than obvious coercion with which they introduced their question – “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of You” – leaves us with more than the slightest of disappointments in James and John.
Jesus surely knew what was on the mind of His disciples, but as a “high priest” (Hebrews) who was able to “sympathize” with their various “weaknesses,” He was also a person who could exercise phenomenal patience, and who was willing to accept His handpicked disciples with their gifts and talents and foibles. It’s a lesson worth remembering when we are aware of our own sinfulness, our own foibles. Jesus accepts us for who we are and we can assume, like the Twelve, that we were chosen to be in His company for a reason. The “cup” of suffering embraced by Jesus, and offered to James and John, is the same cup that we are called to embrace, a cup, although difficult and challenging, can lead us to the glory God has prepared for us.
If Jesus was disappointed in the disciples, He does not allow it to show in today’s gospel. The remainder of the disciples are another story, for when they hear that James and John are trying to beat all of them to the top, they become “indignant,” giving Jesus cause to say something to the Twelve about genuine leadership. It is moments like this, in spite of their “indignation,” which will help the Twelve come together by the end of Jesus’ life, and take on their roles of building the kingdom spoken of and envisioned by Jesus. The transformation of the disciples from a petulant group of competitive, fear-filled, obtuse disciples into the very foundation of the Church, will only happen with the incredible power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus reminds His disciples that they are not meant to be like other people with disciples, for their authority is not meant to be harshly imposed (“lord it over them”). Indeed, Jesus, like Pope Francis, could almost be talking about the clericalism that is at the bottom of so many abuses in the Church, for whichever of His disciples wish to be truly great “will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” In easily understandable terms, Jesus reminds His disciples that He (the “Son of Man”) “did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus is the “suffering servant” of the first reading from Isaiah, and “because of his affliction he shall see the light (of the resurrection) in fullness of days (a reign that lasts forever); through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.” Jesus is our “great high priest who has passed through the heavens (Hebrews),” where He dispenses the “mercy” we long for and the “grace” which enables us to be the men and women intended by God. For the “servant” there is no room for rancor, there is no bullying or violence, there is no attacking others who disagree with us. For the servant there is no destruction for the sake of destruction, there is no reason to take the life of another. A servant’s demeanor is kind and gentle, understanding and compassionate, willing to do whatever the master (Jesus) asks him or her to do. Let us take to heart Jesus’ advice to His disciples, and when we are tempted to use whatever authority we might legitimately have to lord it over others, let us recall that we are called to be servant, “the slave of all.”