29thSunday in Ordinary Time
- · Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations
- · Joke of the Day
- · Today’s Gospel Reading
- · Gospel Reflection
- · Reflection Prayer
Today’s reflection: Jesus teaches that those who wish to be great must be the servant of all. Jesus came to serve. What about YOU?
(NAB Mark 10:35-45) 35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 He replied, “What do you wish [me] to do for you?” 37 They answered him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 They said to him, “We can.” Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John. 42 Jesus summoned them and said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. 43 But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; 44 whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is still journeying to Jerusalem (3 weeks now). Last Sunday, Jesus taught about the specific challenge to confront, and surmount, for those with many possessions, in order to enter the Kingdom of God. Jesus then foretold of His passion to His “Twelve” close and faithful disciples, who then become “amazed and afraid” at His prophetic vision. Jesus’ “Words” to His closest of His followers, I believe, are intended to prepare them for events that will occur in Jerusalem at the time of Passover, and also in their future lives and paths to martyrdom.
James and John, in today’s reading, ask to be given seats of honor when Jesus “enters into His glory”. It seems that once again, the disciples are selective in what they hear Jesus say. (It must be a male trait because my wife accuses me of having selective hearing quite often.) James and John want to share Jesus’ “glory”, but do not appear to understand that Jesus’ glory will be preceded by His suffering and death. James and John, though truly loyal and constantly dutiful followers to Jesus, were “wet behind the ears” – – inexperienced and idealistic – – in the understanding of Jesus’ specific mission. Jesus notes their lack of understanding and foretells the suffering that they will also undergo for the sake of His “Word”, the Gospel.
Jesus concludes today’s reading by saying that the “honor” they seek is not His to give. When the other ten disciples hear what James and John have asked, they become “indignant” towards them, probably wishing they had asked first! It is interesting that these twelve bickering men are the group to whom Jesus will entrust the entire leadership and “authority” of His community of believers and followers, the future Catholic Christian Church.
Rather than scold His twelve “special” disciples, Jesus turns their squabble into a lesson about “servant leadership”. Jesus takes the opportunity to teach all of them about the importance of service and sacrifice in the life of EVERY disciple. In actuality, Jesus seems to be preparing the “Twelve” [Apostles] for their leadership roles in the emerging Catholic Christian community.
Echoing the Gospel which we heard several weeks ago (cf., Mark 9:33-37), Jesus acknowledges that His teaching is deliberately very different from the cultural values of our earthly society and materialistic world. His “WAY” in life is countercultural. Jesus goes on, in today’s reading, to contrast and distinguish the dynamics – – the change producing force – – within the community of His disciples to those of the “rulers of the Gentiles”.
“Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Him with her sons and did Him homage, wishing to ask Him for something. He said to her, ‘What do you wish?’ She answered Him, ‘Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.’” (Matthew 20:20–21).
These two men (or their mother) boldly asked Jesus to promote them to the top positions in His kingdom. I think their desire for greatness seems to be inherent in all of us. After all, who truly wants to be last or least in the group?
The reason Matthew’s Gospel has “the mother” petitioning is not made clear. Some bible scholars suppose that Matthew wanted to allude to Bathsheba’s seeking the kingdom for Solomon (cf., 1 Kings 1:11–21). Bathsheba, as we all know (hopefully), was the wife of King David and the mother of Solomon. In David’s old age, Bathsheba secured the succession of her son Solomon to the throne, instead of David’s eldest surviving son Adonijah. James and John, and Solomon it seems, had good Jewish mothers who wanted the best for their children and “lent a hand” in facilitating the best position possible for their children.
“Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:38).
Jesus is using a metaphor, a figure of speech, for the “drinking from the cup” used in Jewish Scripture, which refers to acceptance of the destiny assigned by God the Father:
“The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked, hates those who love violence, and rains upon the wicked fiery coals and brimstone, a scorching wind their allotted cup. (Psalm 11:5-6)
“LORD, my allotted portion and my cup, you have made my destiny secure” (Psalm 16:5);
“Yes, a cup is in the LORD’s hand, foaming wine, fully spiced. When God pours it out, they will drain it even to the dregs; all the wicked of the earth will drink” (Psalm 75:9);
“Jesus said in reply, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We can.’” (Matthew 20:22);
“He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.’” (Matthew 26:39);
“A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice, ‘Anyone who worships the beast or its image, or accepts its mark on forehead or hand, will also drink the wine of God’s fury, poured full strength into the cup of his wrath, and will be tormented in burning sulfur before the holy angels and before the Lamb’” (Revelations 14:9-10).
“He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many’” (Mark 14:24);
Jesus was well aware of the Jewish Scripture prophecy found in Isaiah, chapter 53, in regards to drinking from this cup of salvation:
“He was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity. He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
Jesus’ destiny is to be crucified and die for the redemptive salvation of the human race, “His baptism”:
“There is a baptism [His death] with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:50).
So, you see, the request of James and John to share in Jesus’ “glory” (Mark 10:35–37) must also involve a share in Jesus’ sufferings as well – – their individual, personal, and intimate endurance of trial, tribulation, and suffering for the sake of the “Word”, the Gospel.
Jesus ends His lesson with James and John by telling them that the “authority” of assigning places of honor in God the Father’s kingdom is solely reserved to God the Father Himself, and to NOONE else:
“To sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared” (Mark 10:40)!!
As I stated earlier, the other “Apostles” became rather upset, offended, and resentful toward James and John for making such a request of “honor”. How dare they (or their mother per Matthew) have the nerve to ask for special treatment from Jesus! Too bad they did not realize that eventually, they ALL, plus many more followers of Jesus’ WAY would be included in the drinking from Jesus’ “cup” – – dying for their Christian faith in horrendous and cruel ways. They ALL would come to sit WITH Jesus – – in the seats allotted to them by God the Father. And, ALL of them would be the Grade “A”, primo seats, for eternity.
Dissention, it seems, was looming amongst the group, and the “boss’s son” knew. So, Jesus called the group together in order to talk to them:
“You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).
Wow, “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Later, Jesus will again dramatize this very important lesson on the night before He dies, at the Last Supper, when He washes the feet of the Twelve Apostles.
Jesus is telling these future leaders within His group that whatever “authority” is to be exercised by them (and by US today), it needs to be in the example of Jesus’ service to them. Their “authority” is to be rendered AS SERVICE to others (Mark 10:45). Their “authority” is NOT to be for personal enrichment or embellishment (Mark 10:42–44).
Saint Francis of Assisi understood this lesson of Jesus intimately well, and practiced it ALWAYS! In his “rule of life”, Saint Francis stresses that the ministers – – the leaders of the Friar Minors (little brothers) – – should be:
“Admonish and encourage them with humility and love.… The ministers are to be servants of all.”
Additionally, St. Francis wrote:
“No one is to appropriate any office or ministry as if it were a personal right.”
The same lesson holds true for today’s secular and religious leaders. Leaders must give their “authority”, priority, energy, abilities, and commitment to the service of ALL others.
Jesus stated, in a direct manner, that He came to serve His Father in Heaven by His passion and death – – NOT for His sake – – but for the sins of the human race! Later, at the “Last Supper”, He will again say of His service:
“This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many” (Mark 14:24).
“Because of His anguish He shall see the light; because of His knowledge He shall be content; my servant, the just one, shall justify the many, their iniquity he shall bear. Therefore I will give Him His portion among the many, and He shall divide the spoils with the mighty, Because He surrendered Himself to death, was counted among the transgressors, Bore the sins of many, and interceded for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:11–12);
Jesus, what a man, what a leader, what a Lord He truly was AND IS!! I can never say this little prayer enough:
“I adore you Jesus, I hope in you Jesus, I love in you Jesus, I trust in you Jesus! You are my Lord, my God, and my ALL!! Amen.”
Following Jesus’ example of sacrificial love continues to be “countercultural” today. Some days, I feel this difference between our societal values and that of God’s values is excruciatingly painful – – both physically and spiritually. True Catholics, full with God’s grace, are truly at battle with the forces of evil in this world. All of us need to keep in mind, during this time of spiritual warfare, that we already know the outcome of the war – – GOD WINS!! And, I know that I personally want to be on the winning side with YOU! Let’s take this opportunity, given to us by God, and consider our known models of “authority”, and compare them to our OWN use of “authority”. Whose model of leadership are you using: Jesus Christ’s, or, the “rulers over the Gentiles”? I know that in my life, I have used BOTH examples in the past, and I prefer the former than the latter.
Jesus did the unthinkable! He reversed the path to gaining true greatness and glory, literally turning the ladder of success we climb upside down. If we want to be first and great, then we must place ourselves at the disposal of others by putting their interests first and by taking on their cares and concerns as if they were our own. Jesus attached “authority” to “unconditional love and service” – – to total sacrifice – – a willing sacrifice of one’s life for the sake of another. In doing so, our service to others brings about, in ours and others lives, the model of perfect JOY:
J – Jesus first;
O – Then others. And finally;
Y – Yourself last.
“Authority”, without sacrificial love, is simply degrading and self-serving. Jesus used blunt language to explain the kind of sacrifice He expected of Himself and for His disciples. His disciples need to drink from His “cup” if they expect to reign with Him in God the Father’s kingdom. The “cup” He described is a bitter one – – involving pain, suffering, and crucifixion – – laying down one’s life, even to the point of shedding one’s blood for the sake of Christ and His “Word”, the Gospel.
What kind of “cup” is prepared for each one of us? For some, such a “cup” entails physical suffering and the painful struggle of martyrdom. However, for most of us, it entails the long routine of a pious Catholic Christian life, with all its monotonous daily sacrifices, disappointments, set-backs, struggles, and ever-present temptations.
Christ offered His life for our sake, and He calls us to freely offer our lives in a daily sacrifice of love and service for others. What makes sacrifice a JOY – – rather than a burden – – is love; the kind of joy-full love which has the power to transform and change our lives, as well as the lives of those around us. Saint Paul tells us that this special kind of love is a pure grace which “God poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5). If we allow God’s love to transform our lives, then no sacrifice – – no pain, no torment, no death – – will be too great or too difficult to endure.
Pope John XXIII – – who opened the Second Vatican Council 50 years ago this past week (October 11, 1962) – – was a true “servant leader”. If parents, priests, bishops, politicians, and business leaders are to lead according to the Gospel, they must learn what the Gospel has to say in their particular circumstances, as Pope John the Great had done. Only in this way can they exercise “servant leadership” in the manner of Jesus Christ.
As we prepare to elect our nation’s leaders on November 6th, we should pray for all candidates that they may seek NOT political power and prestige, but the ability to be “servant leaders”, especially to those who are in greatest need. It is also appropriate for us to ask of them – – to DEMAND of them – – that they BE “servant leaders”!
In the daily routine of life, power struggles are unavoidable. Whenever two or more people are together, there will be occasions of disagreement and attempts to exert influence over each other. However, when two or more are together, in HIS name, all there can be is LOVE, even during dissension:
“Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
Today’s Gospel is an invitation to reflect on how “authority” is applied in your life. There is a temptation to use our “authority” in order to show power over others. When conflicts emerge, many of us even rely upon the power we believe our role in life gives us in order to facilitate the situation to “our” favor. However, Jesus teaches us that there is a more persuasive form of leadership to follow – – servitude. In our daily “challenges” we have the opportunity to practice and teach the kind of service leadership Jesus modeled for us in His ministry, AND, in His passion and death.
Realize that conflicts based on “power struggles” seem unavoidable in our secular lives. However, Catholic Christians are to display their authority over others in a unique, some may say unthinkable, way. Think about Jesus’ unique message to His disciples (and to US) about how He wishes for us to apply “authority”. Think about ways in which you might apply Jesus’ “Words” in your own life and in others lives. We all need to remember a somewhat famous expression from the Church itself:
“To serve is to reign with Christ”.
Pray that we ALL may receive honor in God’s eyes by learning to serve others in love. We share in God’s power, authority, and kingdom by loving others as He has loved us, AND, by laying down our lives in humble caring service for the sake of our neighbor’s welfare. With God, all is possible. Father Jacque Philippe, in his book, “Interior Freedom” said:
“We do not all have in us the stuff of sages or heroes. But by God’s grace we do have the stuff of saints“
Are you ready to lay down your life and to serve others as Jesus did? I believe I do, even if it means for me a slow martyrs death by way of the everyday monotonous and drudging routine of a normal Catholic Christian life, with all its dull, repetitive, boring, and tedious daily sacrifices, disappointments, set-backs, struggles, and ever-present temptations. How about you?
“PARDON PRAYER of FATIMA”
My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love Thee! I ask forgiveness for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love Thee! Amen.