Isaiah 53:10-11; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45
For Christians Bible gives the direction to live and move forward in the ways of the Lord. Sometimes the teachings can be hard and difficult. In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us that whoever wishes to become great among his followers must be a servant or a slave. We know that in the world people search out for glory and honour just as the two brothers did. They wanted to be at the right side and left side of Jesus in his kingdom. When Jesus probes into the question they show their willingness without realizing that the ultimate place on the right and left of Jesus is to be hanging on the cross like him. Yet Jesus gives no promise to them of a special place and calls them all to be humble and simple like the child. This ideal is important for us as we celebrate the mission Sunday today. World Mission Sunday highlights our responsibility to help and spread the message found in the scriptures. We do not have to be experts in evangelization. We all of us are called to work with our brothers and sisters to build the kingdom of God here on earth. Our mission work has to be one of service as Jesus calls us do.
All the three readings of today touch the theme of suffering. Prophet Isaiah in the first reading speaks of the sufferings endured by the servant. In the second reading letter to the Hebrews tells us that we have Jesus the high priest who has gone through sufferings and will be the source of comfort and grace. In the Gospel Jesus speaks about his own sufferings and tells the disciples about his passion and suffering leading ultimately to his final glory. The first reading is taken from the closing verses of the servant song in Isaiah where the poem begins and ends with the testimony from God about the accomplishments of the servant. His self reflects on his life telling us how generously and submissively he gave himself up. There is the admiration of the sacrifice made by the individual for others. This servant suffers and is crushed. He faces the hatred and rejection from people. Amazingly God is pleased with him because by his suffering and death the servant won the forgiveness and healing for the world. This is the victory of the servant and for this he is exalted by God and he enjoys a life beyond the ordinary. He has the right relationship with God.
The Second Reading from the letter to the Hebrews tells us that in Jesus we have a “great” high priest. When is Jesus our great high priest? When he is in a temple built with exotic marble and wearing vestments made of costly cloth and precious stones and people bowing down before him? No, he is our great high priest when he, the priest and victim, hangs stark naked on the altar of the cross while the crowds mock and jeer at him from below. There is the hope that Jesus the high priest, the son of God can accomplish great things for us. He is human and he can sympathise with us in all our struggles. As a human person he knows what it is to be tested. Now Jesus is glorified in his humanity and has entered into heaven. He is now our advocate with God the Father we have the confidence that God’s mercy and grace are always available.
The Gospel passage contains the response of James and John to Jesus ‘third prediction of his passion. This pronunciation follows the two previous predictions of Jesus about his passion, suffering, death and Resurrection. In each case the response of the disciples manifests a basic misunderstanding of what Jesus has been talking about. Jesus is talking about his suffering death and service while the disciples are constantly focused on power fame and glory. Jesus attempts to counter their misunderstanding with a corrective teaching regarding the meaning of discipleship. Here we have the two brothers, who belong to the innermost circle of Jesus’ disciples, trying to exert their influence on Jesus and snatch the power they are looking for. They come to Jesus with their request the moment Jesus had finished telling them about his suffering and death. Their opening gambit seems a quite modest request: “Master, we want you to something for us.” Jesus is not so easily duped. He counters with another question: “What do you want me to do for you?” It is much like the question he asked before healing the blind man and the leper. The two brothers had heard Jesus speaking of suffering, death and new life. They had recognised Jesus as the Messiah-King of Israel and heard him refer often to “his kingdom”. They ask him to give them the two top places in his royal kingdom. Mark tells us that their request showed that they had no understanding whatever of what Jesus had told them.
Jesus asks them: “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink? Can you be baptised with the baptism with which I will be baptised?” They respond to him without any further understanding that it is possible for them to drink the chalice of Jesus. Their response may have been very genuine but it is clear they had no understanding of how this King would triumph by emptying himself to the lowest human level and only then enter his kingdom. This is what Isaiah speaks about in today’s First Reading. He speaks of God crushing the Suffering Servant (Jesus) with suffering as the way for him to have many heirs and live a long life. “By his sufferings shall my servant justify many.”
As we continue the Gospel Reading, we see how the other disciples are upset when the brothers asked Jesus for the honour of sitting at the right and left side of His heavenly Throne. Understandably, when the other ten heard of their ambition they were very angry. It was not because they disagreed but because they felt cheated. Perhaps they too wanted such a position. These two had gone behind their backs and pulled a fast one. They too had totally missed the point. So now Jesus brings them all together and tells them his view of greatness and success in life. There is only one way to greatness and it is his way. Teaching them to be spiritually minded, Jesus told the disciples, to become great, they be as servants; to be first, they must be a slave to all. Jesus Himself did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. His example of perfect love is our example. Thus Jesus makes his point clear through his corrective teaching about true greatness not being centered in authoritarian ruling but in service and servanthood. For them the model is Jesus whose true authority was rooted in service towards all.
Greatness consists not in what we have, or in what we can get from others but in what we can give of ourselves to others. In our own time, I suppose Mother Teresa was an outstanding example. Her greatness was in the giving of her whole self to the very lowest, treating them as brothers and sisters and living close to them and like them. And the people of India recognised that. Her greatness was not in her fame or even in her reputation for holiness but because of her spirit of service to those most neglected and to those in need. Mother Teresa was a great missionary bringing the Gospel message of service to the very poorest. She and her sisters went on missionary work to New York and Los Angeles, to London and even Rome. Like James and John and the other disciples, like Mother Teresa and many others, we are all called to be missionaries. To be good missionaries we have to hear Jesus’ words about where real greatness lies. It is a message that is not always easy to hear in a society like ours. We are all called to be not only disciples and followers but also apostles and missionaries and to be of service to our brothers and sisters.
Thus to be a disciple of Jesus we must accept our call to serve others as he served. At the Last Supper he gave the example and washed the feet of his disciples and told them that they too ought to do likewise. At certain times the disciples of Jesus had the basic misunderstanding of his mission and message. While Jesus was preaching on the Gospel of suffering, death and service, they were looking for power, fame and glory. In our society the word service has many meanings; but today as we celebrate the Mission Sunday it includes the efforts of men, women and children who work to spread the Gospel and offer Christ’s healing and forgiveness to those who have never encountered him. Hence service is an essential component of Christianity. Believing in God and acknowledging Jesus as our Lord and master are important as are study, prayer and meditation; but the true mark of our faith is how we treat others in life.
Dear friends we are all called to follow Christ with an attitude of service towards others. As many in our society strive for success, fame and wealth, followers of Christ are called upon to look for opportunities to serve others. Our celebration of this Eucharist is an acknowledgement of our dependence on God and each other and our willingness to follow the example of Jesus Christ. On August 14, 1941, Saint Maximilian Kolbe died of starvation in the place of a young father so that he may live. We view this act of self-sacrifice as extremely beautiful Christian love. What Jesus has done for each and every one of us far surpasses what St. Maximilian has done for the young man. Through Jesus, we are not gaining the normal life span of a human being on earth, but eternal life in the Kingdom of God.