SUNDAY, TWENTY NINTH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
Is 53:10-11; Ps 33:4-5,18-20,22; Heb 4:14-16; Mk 10:35-45
SUFFERING IS VITAL FOR TRUE DISCIPLESHIP
The First reading from the Prophet Isaiah depicts a ‘Suffering Servant’ whose fidelity to God’s call will be redemptive and yet personally painful. This reading, which also appears on Palm Sunday talks about this ‘Servant’ who would suffer for being God’s servant. The servant song predicts directly the Messiah, Christ.
Let us reflect today on what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus. To understand the gospel passage of today, it is necessary to remember that, in the verses immediately preceding it (Mk 10:32-34), Jesus predicted his passion, death and resurrection in Jerusalem. It is, then, immediately following the announcement of suffering, that the disciples James and John seek privileged positions of honour. It is also significant that James and John approach Jesus twice in their request. First, they ask the Lord to grant them whatever they ask of him and then they ask for selfish pursuits.
Faith is always distorted when we try to convince God to do what we want rather than seek his will for our lives so we can do what he wants. At this point in Mark’s gospel, Jesus has drawn close to Jerusalem, and his journey is almost at an end. We see in the question of James and John that the disciples have much to learn before their journey of discipleship is completed. In particular, they still have not yet learned the proper relationship of faith and the disposition of servanthood that will allow them to bear the cross with Jesus. Disciples are to follow the Lord’s lead and not try to lead the Lord where they want. We can be tempted in our faith to approach God in the same way that James and John approached Jesus.
The remedy Jesus offers for ambition is that of faithfulness even in suffering. He asks James and John if they can drink the cup he is to drink and be baptized in the baptism he is to experience. That is the ultimate question of discipleship. It teaches the disciples that greatness is not found in the selfish pursuit of honourable positions or privileged status, but rather in the ability to faithfully endure hardship and suffering for the sake of Christ. The Old Testament uses the image of a cup as a symbol of suffering and wrath (cf. Jer 25:15-29, Ps 75:8, Is 51:17, 22). Jesus will drink of this cup at the Last Supper and in the Garden of Gethsemane.
To drink from the cup of Jesus, then, is to share in our Lord’s very suffering on Calvary rendered present to us in the Eucharist. This symbol of suffering is further developed because James and John asked to be placed, one at Jesus’ left and the other at Jesus’ right, when our Lord enters his kingdom. What they did not realize is that the kingship of Jesus is established on the cross of Calvary, and in the Gospel of Mark, we are told that two thieves were placed “one on his right and one on his left’’ (15:27). The lesson of this teaching is clear: greatness for Christian disciples is in the ability to share in the cross of Christ. Jesus is asking James and John the fundamental question of discipleship: Can they follow him in his suffering and not just in his glory? They approached the Lord with a desire for greatness and Jesus taught them the standard of true greatness: greatness is not based on where they sit but on how closely they can remain to the Lord in times of suffering and persecution.
Often in our lives we tend to forget the meaning of true discipleship, wandering of on the road of greatness, the road of position and possession, the road of being served. Look at Jesus; he listens to James and John. He does not get upset or angry. His patience is indeed infinite, also towards us. He tells them: “You do not know what you are asking.” In a way, he excuses them, while at the same time reproaches them: “You do not realize that you have gone off the road.” Immediately after this, the other ten apostles will show by their indignant reaction to the sons of Zebedee how much all of them were tempted to go off the road. Our discipleship with Christ depends on our acts and not on our words. The Lord is inviting us to put into practice the gospel we hear today
Response: May your merciful love be upon us, as we hope in you, O Lord.
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