18 October 2015: Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 53:10-11 Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22 Heb 4:14-16 Mk 10:35-45

Discipleship: service to all

Between the Easter season and Advent, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week Jesus gives his most important teaching on discipleship.

The first reading is from Isaiah’s fourth servant song. The Lectionary editors pair this reading with today’s gospel because Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s righteous one and suffering servant.

The second reading is a continuation of the letter to the Hebrews. In this section, the author compares Jesus to the Jewish high priest. Jesus “passed through the heavens” in the same way that the high priest entered the temple’s Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. God’s presence connected the Holy of Holies to heaven (Is 6). Jesus can “sympathize with our weaknesses” because his incarnation makes him fully human. As a human he was “tested in every way,” yet he remained “without sin,” living in perfect obedience to God’s will.

In the gospel, Jesus and his disciples continue “on the way” to Jerusalem. Jesus has just made a third prediction of his coming passion, death, and resurrection (Mk 10:32-34). As happened before with Jesus’ previous passion predictions, his disciples don’t understand. James and John outrageously request that Jesus guarantee them places on his right and left hand “in his glory.” Jesus asks if they can “drink the cup” he drinks or “be baptized” with his coming baptism. What is Jesus asking of his disciples?

  • Drink the cup: In Hebrew scripture to “drink the cup” means to accept what God has planned, either a cup of blessing (Ps 16:5) or a cup of wrath (Ps 75:9). In Christian scripture, the cup stands for the Eucharist. The early ekklasia (believing community) understood the Eucharistic cup as the blood of Christ and the source of salvation to all who drink it (Mk 14:23-24).
  • Be baptized: In Hebrew scripture, baptism (immersion in water) means overwhelming calamity (Ps 42:8). In Christian scripture, Jesus’ baptism prefigures his death. The early ekklasia understood baptism as uniting with Jesus in his death, dying to the self, and being reborn a new person (Rm 6:3-4).

James and John reply they are able, which tells Jesus that they are really clueless. When the other ten disciples hear what James and John are asking, they are indignant (literally “have a lot of grief”). Jesus calls them together and gives another teaching on discipleship. Unlike gentile rulers who use their authority to subjugate and to control people, Jesus’ disciples must imitate his humble and self-emptying love. In the kingdom, leaders serve, and the greatest one is the slave to all. Jesus sums up his mission: to serve and to give his life as ransom for many. Jesus fulfills the role of the righteous one and suffering servant from the first reading.

For RCIA participants and for all of us, Jesus presents another clear picture of discipleship: service. We don’t get to choose what service God calls us to perform (“drink the cup”) or how we will serve (“be baptized.”) Discipleship means giving up our personal preferences about service–dying to self–to bring God’s kingdom to others. We pledge our service at our Baptism, and we are strengthened to continue our service whenever we receive the Eucharist. Are we able to be servants and slaves to all?

—Terence Sherlock

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