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Friday, 15 October 2021 18:21

29th Week of Ordinary Time - Year B - 2021

Written by Fr Elmer Ibarra SVD

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 10:35-45

Elmer Vocations story 150In sports, the dream of an athlete is to be the best, to be at the top, to be number one. Unfortunately, sometimes in the process, a good number might resort to various ways of doing it either legally or illegally. Some will try to be nice to sports officials to get some “favours” and others will resort to using illegal drugs in order to enhance their performance and be at the top of their game. It is this selfish ambition that is driving people to be at the top.

The gospel for today tells us of two disciples who have ambitions of their own and that is to sit at the right and at the left hand of Jesus when he reigns in glory. During the time of Christ and most probably until now, this is not really uncommon. In any organisation, people tend to jockey for positions that they want. Just recently, we had Gladys Berejiklian suddenly resigned as premier of New South Wales. Then all of the sudden, there was a lot of speculation about who would succeed her. Of course, every minister had ambitions to succeed her and when the dust settled, it was the State Treasurer Dominic Perrottet. Going back to the apostles, when the other disciples heard of this attempt by the two brothers, they were upset naturally, perhaps because how sneaky the two brothers were in trying to pull a fast one on them. They may have been upset because they also had their own ambitions and these two brothers are beating them to the punch. They may have been disappointed because the two brothers seemed not to understand the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus in reply was quick to point out that they did not understand what they were asking. Jesus even challenged the brothers on whether they are willing to drink the cup they he was to drink or to be baptised with the baptism that Jesus was to be baptised with. Now for us who are living in the 21st century, we may not be able to grasp immediately what Jesus was talking about. However, for the Jews during the time of Christ, it couldn’t get any clearer. For them a cup was a symbol of bad fortune. We can clearly see this when Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane a few hours before he was arrested. Obviously he was being asked to drink from the cup, even though Jesus was also asking if the cup could pass by him. But he accepted it, as it is his Father’s will. Then baptism during his time meant a deluge of affliction. And we know that Jesus suffered a lot of affliction from his passion and death on the cross. The two brothers immediately accepted the challenge. But Jesus quickly pointed out that while they accepted this challenge, it was not up to him to decide but his Father in heaven.

Jesus, knowing the situation and the rift that was being created among his disciples, took this advantage to point out the meaning of Jesus’ mission in this world and his expectation to all those who would follow him. Firstly, the reign of Jesus when it is finally revealed is not about being an earthly king, with servants running to and fro at his bidding. It is not about having ministers at his side (which the disciples are wishing for) and letting them rule a portion of the territory of Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus’ kingdom is a kingdom that is in heaven. A heavenly kingdom that until we experience it after our deaths, we won’t be able to totally comprehend. Second, the reign of Jesus is not about lording it over his subjects. On the contrary it is about being the servant of all. Nothing is more evident than when Jesus himself on the night of the Last Supper, took off his clothes and began washing the feet of his disciples. It was an act that scandalised his disciples because it was an act that was reserved for a foreign slave because of its debasing nature. Lastly, the mission of Jesus is about sacrifice for the ransom of many. Jesus never intended to have a long life and enjoy what the world can offer. It is about sacrificing one’s life to save us all. This is what Jesus did and this is what he is also expecting his disciples to imitate. Then later on we learn that James suffered an early death by martyrdom and was the first apostle to die. He was beheaded from the orders of Herod Agrippa as we know it from the book of Acts. John on the other hand is the only apostle who did not die a martyr’s death. He died of old age while in exile in the island of Patmos and yet during his life he suffered tremendously from people who were persecuting the church.

If we think that we would be great in the kingdom of God by occupying a high position in Church, by becoming a parish priest, a bishop or being a pope or being a superior in a community or a congregation, we are mistaken. The position that these people occupy should be seen not as positions of power and authority but as positions of service. If we really want to be great in the kingdom of God, let us follow Jesus, to serve without being served and to sacrifice one’s life so that others may live.