Tuesday, November 23, 2021 at 5:34 PM
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Homily, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus came to serve, not to be served

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 27, 2021)

Isaiah 53:10-11; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45

Most of us have had the experience of asking for something and not getting it. That experience begins in childhood when we begin to learn the difficult lesson that others do not automatically respond to our wants and whims. In adolescence, we discover that our peers are not mirror images of ourselves and do not always behave or respond to us in the way we want them to. In adulthood we learn the delicate art of compromise when what we want and what others want to come into conflict with each other. We also discover that in our relationship with God our prayers are not always answered, even when they focus not on ourselves but on others and their well-being. The experience of unanswered prayer can be a real challenge to our faith.

In today’s gospel, James and John come before Jesus with a prayer of petition. They ask him, ‘allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.’ The previous time Mark had depicted James and John together was on the mount of transfiguration with Peter. There they had an experience of Jesus in his glory, flanked by Moses and Elijah. James and John understood this experience as an anticipation of what was to come, and probably in the future, they wanted the places occupied by Moses and Elijah. Mark emphasizes the inappropriateness of this request of James and John by placing it immediately after the third announcement by Jesus of his coming passion and death, ‘the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles—’ (Mk 10:33-34).  As Jesus declares that he is shortly to be humbled, James and John ask him that they be exalted.  In response to the brothers’ request, Jesus makes his own request of them; ‘Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptized with the baptism with which I must be baptized?’

When we consider those two images, we begin to understand how countercultural they were. People didn't baptize themselves. To be baptized implied submission to the ministry of another and the reception of a new identity and relationship to God. Baptism demanded a readiness to have one's life turned around and oriented only to God. Jesus' cup, as he defined it, was his life's blood that was shed, the cup that even he asked to be rid of, if only it were the will of God. In baptism, responding to the Father who named him the beloved son, Jesus accepted the commitment to be faithful, no matter the cost. His cup, offered symbolically at the Last Supper and accepted in the Garden of Gethsemane, was the fulfillment of that commitment.

Jesus' acceptance of his baptism and cup was not only obedience to the Father, but a revelation of what the Father is like. The God who was "well pleased" in him was the God with whom he shared the vulnerability of love that does not count the cost. Jesus revealed the God who knows hours of grieving for love of the oppressed, for those who suffer under the power of the wicked. Time and again, the Gospel comes back to the formula Jesus gave at the end of today's Gospel: “Whoever wishes to be great will be a servant”. True greatness consists of self-sacrifice in handing ourselves over for the sake of others. In this way, authentic human greatness mirrors the greatness of Jesus, who “gives his life as a ransom many”.

Jesus does himself what he asks others to do: to serve, not to be served; to give love freely; to reach out to those in need, not to wait for adoring approval. Christian discipleship is a service industry in which there should be no unemployment. There is work for everyone, for all of us. We are not only consumers of grace, or spectators of Christ’s grace at work. Rather, we are called to be partakers in the work of redemption. Jesus’ kingdom is not about who wears the crown but who bears the cross! Strengthen us Lord, to be faithful to our vocations that in serving rather than being served, we will find the dying and rising equally assured. Amen.

 

 

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