Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.
Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
or, shorter version: Mark 10:42-45
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They replied, "We are able." Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John.
Jesus called his disciples and said to them, "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man has come not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
The theme of the willing servant matches the missionary ideal perfectly. The ideal missionary is so devoted to the good of the people whom s/he is sent to sereve that they plan both their activities and their life-style to match the real needs of those people. There is a huge effort of adaptation and inculturation involved, so tha the Gospel can integrate into the lives of the local people. This goes well beyond the initial need to learn the local language, and the most effective symbols to use, so that the message of Jesus can be understood and loved.
In our world, where most of the celebrities highlighted in the media seem motivated by self-interest and self-assertion Jesus' call to total service seems unrealistic, and, one might think, unlikely to succeed. But today's Gospel offers the ideal of dedication to the service of others as fundamental to Christian discipleship. Jesus came "not to be served, but to serve" and this example must always be a guiding light for his followers. He went about doing good (cf. Acts 10:38), bringing justice, healing, forgiveness and kindness into people's lives. This is why those who believe in him are challenged to give themselves, their talents and their time, to the service of others without seeking any other reward than knowing that this is supremely worthwhile. The acted parable of the foot-washing at the Last Supper gives out the same message.
In practice what can we learn from our Lord's life and actions? He clearly said that he came to do the Father's will, and this thought stayed with him, even when it led to suffering and a cruel death. He was always about the Father's business, and made it his business. This prompts us too, with an active sense of duty, and a personal dedication to God's will for us. Normally, we discover our duty and God's will for us, not in world-changing plans or in heroic ideals but in the ordinary tasks of each day. At home or in the office, or the school or other workplace, or wherever the activity of the moment calls us, we try to be aware of duty and a sense of dedication. Whenever we work in a slipshod manner, of fail to offer the needed helping hand, we fall below our personal call to service. What a change it would make, if there was a widespread return to this spirit, with regard to people's daily work. We need to be reminded that in rendering to others the service of a job well done we are imitating the serving Christ and being his fellow-workers in building up the kingdom of God on earth.
It is tempting to be selfish with our time and energy. There are so many plausible excuses for excluding ourselves from the work that needs to be done. How easy to join the many who just live for themselves and let society fend for itself. But today's Scripture calls us to examine our conscience, and to face the question, "What can I do for my community, rather than what can my community do for me?" It is one of the most basic values we have to keep on learning throughout our lives. The approach of James and John, in today's Gospel, is not unlike the way many of us come to God. We approach him in prayer with the greatest fervour, whenever we want something for ourselves. Jesus responds to their request with a request of his own, thereby showing that what he wants for us must take priority over what we want for ourselves. The only request worth making is that which he taught us to make, "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Mt 6:10.) His will, as expressed in today's Gospel, is that we should share in his cup and in his baptism, that cup which he was to ask the Father to take from him (Mk 14:36), and that baptism of fire which he knew he had to undergo. His death on the cross was but the final expression of that total service which characterised the whole of his life. Everyday he died to himself, because he lived "not to be served, but to serve." His life was a daily emptying of self (Phil 2:7), a self-emptying which was only complete when he gave his last breath on the cross The complete missionary!
Most of us have had the experience of asking for something and not getting it. That experience begins in childhood when we begin to learn the difficult lesson that others do not automatically respond to our wants and whims. In adolescence we discover that our peers are not mirror images of ourselves and do not always behave or respond to us in the way we want them to. In adulthood we learn the delicate art of compromise when what we want and what others want come into conflict with each other. We also discover that in our relationship with God our prayers are not always answered, even when they focus not on ourselves but on others and their well-being. The experience of unanswered prayer can be a real challenge to our faith.
In today's gospel, James and John come before Jesus with a prayer of petition. They ask him, 'allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.' The previous time Mark had depicted James and John together was on the mount of transfiguration with Peter. There they had an experience of Jesus in his glory, flanked by Moses and Elijah. James and John understood this experience as an anticipation of what was to come, and in the future they wanted the places occupied by Moses and Elijah. Mark emphasizes the inappropriateness of this request of James and John by placing it immediately after the third announcement by Jesus of his coming passion and death, 'the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles—' (Mk 10:33-34). As Jesus declares that he is shortly to be humbled, James and John ask Jesus that they be exalted. Here is a prayer that has far too much of 'self' in it. It is not a prayer that Jesus can respond to. Sometimes, our own prayers can have a lot of 'self' in them, even when they are prayers for others. One dimension of our growing up into the person of Jesus is learning to pray as he prays, entering into his ongoing prayer to the Father. It is only the Holy Spirit who can enable our prayer to harmonize with that of the risen Lord. As Paul states in his letter to the Galatians, 'God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying "Abba" Father!' (Gal 4:6). In his letter to the Romans he comments that 'the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words' (Rom 8:26). Our prayer will be a sharing in Jesus' own prayer when it is shaped by the inarticulate sighs of the Spirit deep within us.
In response to the brothers' request of Jesus, he makes his own request of them, 'Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptized with the baptism with which I must be baptized?' Jesus is presented in the gospels as asking many questions. One access point to the gospel story of Jesus for us today is to sit with the many questions that Jesus asks. A very different form of prayer to the prayer of petition is to listen to the various petitions that Jesus addresses to us and, having listened, to respond honestly from the depths of our heart. Jesus' petition to James and John finds an echo in Jesus' own prayer of petition in the garden of Gethsemane, 'Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want' (Mk 14:36). The very cup that Jesus asked James and John to drink, he hesitated to drink himself. Yet, he went on to drink it because his prayer, 'Remove this cup from me', was secondary to his more fundamental prayer, 'Not what I want, but what you want.' Jesus does not request of his disciples anything he is not prepared to do himself. As today's second reading remarks, we have a high priest 'who has been tempted in every way that we are, though he is without sin.' Jesus' petition to James and John is addressed to all of us. He asks if we are prepared to commit ourselves to his servant way, even when it means the way of the cross, the way of self-denial and self-giving. The attentive listener may be put in mind of the sacraments of Eucharist and baptism by Jesus' reference to 'the cup' and 'baptism.' At baptism we are baptized into Jesus' servant way and when we celebrate the Eucharist we renew our commitment to that way.
Jesus uses the simple examples of salt and light to illustrate the effect of a Christian life as a witness to him and to his message.
In many Irish farms when I was growing up, people used to kill a pig a few times a year. As many had no fridges or freezers in those days, old tea chests were used to store the sides of bacon. The secret was to pack the bacon as tightly as possible, with a whole sack of salt, into the tea chest. With a large family, the bacon lasted for several weeks before it was all eaten. Because of the salt, the bacon remained fresh, and none of it was wasted. The salt preserved the bacon, and that is what I think of when I hear Jesus saying that we are the salt of the earth. We are meant to be preservers of goodness and life within the wider community
Salt preserves, and it also gives taste. Heart specialists may prefer if it were removed from all dining-room tables, but salt remains one of the kitchen essentials. Salt does make a difference to food. That is why Jesus uses the image to stress the effect of the Christian within the community. The witness of Christian living is supposed to make a difference.
We understand many things because we know the opposites. If there was darkness, we could not appreciate the light. The same goes for hot and cold, health and sickness, life and death. Darkness can be more than the absence of light. There are people living in darkness because they are blind, or because they are in a deep hole of depression. The Christian is called to be a light. It is like someone carrying a lantern, leading others along a dark tunnel. Every flying object is attracted to the light, as we know when we leave a window open, and the lights are on within the house. It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. The role of the Christian is to light that candle. We cannot hope to brighten up the whole world, but one candle in a dark room transforms the whole room. I have known individuals who were like that candle within the room of my surroundings.
Today's gospel calls us to action. If we are to be the salt of the earth, then we must not lose our flavour. We must try to be effective Christians. Christianity requires action. "By this will all people know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." Jesus tells us that we should let our light shine before people so that they will know that we are children of the Father. If God has children living here on earth, then surely their presence should make an enormous difference: His Son, Jesus, certainly made an enormous difference.
We need to personalise the gospel as we read it. The words of today's gospel are meant for us. Right here, right now we have the salt and the light. Like a jigsaw, where each part is needed to complete the picture, each one of us needs to t respond to the call that our Lord has issued today. There is nothing dramatic or fanatical about this. The gospel is enlightened common sense, and, because of Incarnation, our response and our role is ordinary and commonplace. It does, however, require a personal input. No words of mine can speak for you. You have to take personal responsibility for your own response.
Letting your light shine before others is not about showing off, or preaching to others, and telling them what to do. Your life is your greatest sermon. If you were deaf and dumb, you could still speak loudly about Jesus and his message. In a good sense, I will make a difference if I am different. Jesus was a sign of contradiction to this world. His values were different, and his life was different. That is why so many people followed him. If I went to live in a cave in the mountains, and lived with the Lord, there would be a pathway up the mountainside within a few years. Christianity is about attracting rather than about promoting.
It is a wonderful grace to have a programme for living; to have a map that charts the course, to have guidelines to follow. Jesus gives a clear and definite programme for living. He lived it himself, and then he asked us to live as he lived. By ourselves, of course, that is impossible, and Jesus knows that only too well. That is why he sent his Spirit, so that we could live in the power of that Spirit. Just as he was led by the Spirit, so can we. The X-factor in all of this is my declared willingness to accept that mandate. Again and again, I am called to repeat my "yes" to his call. Every part of the gospel calls for a response from me. Today is just another of those days.
The following story is told about John Ruskin, the 18th century English writer, when he was quite old. He was visiting with a friend, and he was standing looking out the front window of the house. It was nighttime, and the lamplighter was lighting the street lamps. From the window one could see only the lamps that were being lit, and the light the lamplighter was carrying from one lamp to another. The lamplighter himself could not be seen. Ruskin remarked that the lamplighter was a good example of the genuine Christian. His way was clearly lit by the lights he lit, and the light he kept burning, even though he himself may not be known or seen.
At the beginning of the gospel, Jesus said that he was the light that had come into the world. Today, he tells us that we are to become that light for others