October 21, 2012
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
James and John ask that when Jesus enters his glory he would grant them positions of honor and power. Jesus responds that they do not understand the cost of what they are asking. When the ten hear about the ambitious request, they become indignant. Jesus then summons the twelve and reveals the meaning of the divine mission for the kingdom that he has come to fulfill. Those who are rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them and make their authority felt. Among his disciples, however, whoever wishes to be great will become a servant, and whoever wishes to be first will be the slave of all. Then follows perhaps the most radical and most revealing saying of Jesus about himself and about discipleship in the entire gospel: "For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Peter, James and John are especially close to Jesus. They are with Jesus on the mountain of transfiguration and in the garden of Gethsemane. In these turning points of his life, Jesus sees clearly that his commitment to do his Father's will would entail suffering and death. Peter, James and John (representing all of us) do not see how the failure of suffering and death could have anything to do with God's plan. In this gospel James and John are more concerned with the success of having highest positions of honor and power in the kingdom. Shortly before, Jesus had called Peter a Satan because Peter rebuked him when he began to talk about the suffering and death he would soon undergo.
It is obvious why Mark immediately after the episode of this gospel tells us about the blind beggar, Bartimaeus. We are all blind when it comes to seeing what Jesus is talking about because his teaching is so contrary to our instinctively self-centered way of understanding the meaning of being the greatest and being first. When we hear the words of Jesus, we may even feel the instinct to ignore them as foolish and impractical in our world. We can only ask for the grace to recognize our blindness and to pray with the blind beggar: "Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me...I want to see." Only when we see with the seeing of faith can we follow Jesus on the way to the glory God has prepared for him and for us.
When we pray for the miracle of understanding the meaning of our lives in the way that Jesus understood the meaning of his life, we are seeking to know what it means to be "servant" in the unique, particularity of each of our lives. The beauty and completeness of God's kingdom will not be realized without the unique service of each disciple, regardless of how exalted or how lowly the service may be in the eyes of the world. What is essential to see is that the service Jesus invites us to do is the way of love.
To be servants in the way that Jesus was servant means to live in complete trust that God loves us in the way that God loved Jesus during his earthly life. Jesus was not servant out of servile fear of a tyrant Father, but as beloved Son, who in turn loved as he was loved. It is a free service of love, not of fear. When the Apostle Paul was cured of his blindness, he was able to say in a letter to the Christians of Ephesus: "Be imitators of God...and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over as a sacrificial offering to God..." And to the Galatians he wrote: "I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me...You were called for freedom...do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather serve one another through love...But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another."
Campion P. Gavaler, OSB