29th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Isaiah 53: 10 11; Ps 33; He brews 4: 14 – 16; Mark 10 35 – 45
Considering the Apostles, these men Jesus called to follow Him in a special way, actually we know very little about most of them. Here and there in the Gospels we get to know something of a few of them. Take the case of Peter, James and John – Jesus called them to be present when He was transfigured and had them accompany Him in his agony in Gethsemane shortly before His arrest. It is clear that Jesus had a more intimate relationship with them, although He loved them all, as He said, “to the end.”
In today’s Gospel, the brothers James and John given a nickname by Jesus “The Sons of Thunder” show some of their thunder. Because of their relationship with the Lord, perhaps they felt entitled to make a demand of Him – listen to their words – there is no “please” no “you might consider this” – rather “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of You. Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left” I would like to believe that responding to their thunder Jesus did it with a smile. He might even have asked, “Sons of thunder, have you decided among yourselves who gets which side?”
But He did ask them most pointedly, “Can you drink My cup, can you accept My baptism?” Without hesitation they reply – “We can”- yet we can surely say that at that moment they had no crystal ball as to what that cup, that baptism would entail for them. Sometimes, in a moment of fervor we can agree to anything and then, like James and John, experience the reality and wished perhaps we had not been so quick to reply.
But this occasion, like many others in the Gospel, affords Jesus the opportunity to teach something important, something essential in following Him. We do not follow Him according to our own designs, our own ideas; following the Lord Jesus means something very radical – it means having Him define our lives – internally and externally. He is the Lord, you/I are not! He is the Way and the Life, you/I are not! – though, sometimes we try!
To follow Christ is not some vague journey but a definite, singular way of following as He calls us to be His own. His words to James and John, His words to His disciples are addressed to us today because the Word of God is not a museum piece but the living and active word – Word with a capital “W”.
He is very clear in telling us: “…whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” Contrary to John and James demand, greatness, true greatness according to the Lord Jesus Christ does not arise from special seating, from titles, trophies, positions, beauty, athletic prowess, money, power and the like – the one and only true greatness the Lord acknowledges comes from service – the service of love in our attitude toward others, in our actions to others. We hear His command in every Mass: “Do this in memory of Me!”
Our Teacher and Exemplar, Jesus speaks of Himself and gives us the motivation for service: “For 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 who justifies us, who bears our guilt as Isaiah prophesied. Jesus is the fountain of compassion and mercy whom we can confidently approach as the Letter to the Hebrews proclaims. In calling us, in choosing us – which He has – we are always receivers of His divine charity, His extravagant service.
At the heart of our Christian-Catholic life, we are always receivers; our God is a God who gives, graces, loves with incomprehensible mercy that we experience in many ways – that we will experience in this Mass as we receive the Body and Blood of the Lord – what we present to the Lord is our faith and our desire – both of which are graces given graciously to us and gratefully received by us.
Because we receive not just something but SOMEONE, the Lord Himself, our response is to serve – to lay down our lives in charity – without the service of charity not just to those close but to all is not “a” mark but the mark of a follower. The question, of course, is when you/I stand before the Lord, will He recognize the mark?