If nothing else, the disciples were persistent.
A few Sundays ago, when Jesus asked, they admitted to him that
they had been arguing on the road about, "who was the greatest"
among them. Jesus corrected and reminded them that among his
own, greatness would be measured by a willingness to be "servant
of all" (Mark 9: 30-37). These Sundays we have been on the road
with Jesus and his disciples. In recent weeks Jesus’ focus has
shifted away from the crowds and he has been spending his
energies teaching his disciples. He is preparing them for what
will happen when they get to Jerusalem and he is handed over to
be put to death.
Today we learn that, while they may be further
along the road, the disciples have not advanced very much in
their apprenticeship, because they still reveal their ambition
for power and priority. Jesus had just made his third prediction
of the passion, but his disciples still don’t understand.
Today’s gospel confirms that. James and John envision a
triumphant entrance with Jesus into Jerusalem and, before they
get there, they want to secure high places for themselves. They
presume Jesus’ enterprise will end in worldly glory and they
want to be up close to him to get a large share of the pie.
But if they had really been listening to what
Jesus had been teaching them, they would have known that to be
close to Jesus in his glory means to be close to him in his
humiliation, suffering and death. Jesus had been speaking about
his kingdom and James and John want to be there with Jesus when
he claims it. But when the time comes for Jesus to be raised on
the cross and proclaimed as king on the cross, the disciples’
disillusionment is complete. They missed the lesson Jesus had
been teaching them on the road about discipleship. In a way you
can’t blame the ambitious two, after all, on their travels Jesus
had been performing miracles and attracting crowds. They had
just presumed things would keep building and, once in Jerusalem,
Jesus would be proclaimed king.
When we plan for our future we look to how we
can achieve our goals and fulfill our ambitions. We put failure
out of our minds as we forge on. How could the disciples, at
this high point in Jesus’ and their popularity, ever imagine the
reversal that was ahead of them? The two sons of Zebedee would
share in Jesus’ glory: as his disciples they too would come to
know suffering and dying in his name. They had envisioned the
glories of David’s kingdom; but Jesus’ kingdom would be quite
different. They had envisioned sitting with the powerful and
triumphant in the halls of power, they certainly weren’t
imagining the powers overcoming Jesus and putting him to death.
James and John’s request and the indignation of
the other ten, who probably wished they had put the request to
Jesus first, provide an opportunity for Jesus to once again
spell out what membership in his kingdom means – service. He
even takes the opportunity to state it more strongly: anyone
wishing to follow him, must be "slave to all." That’s enough to
shake them to their roots!
James and John are not the only persistent
disciples of the Lord. Mark, the evangelist, is also persistent.
He is insistent throughout his gospel that the Twelve just don’t
understand who Jesus is and what discipleship entails. Mark is
writing for an early church being persecuted because they are
Christ’s followers. They are having to "drink the cup" that
Jesus drank and that he said his disciples would also drink.
Mark paints a picture of the Twelve’s misunderstanding of
discipleship as a way of reminding his own community that they
must not forget what Jesus taught about service and suffering in
his name. Mark’s church is having trouble accepting their
suffering and is disillusioned about the Lord’s long delay in
returning to bring to completion the reign of God he initiated.
Mark reminds the church, then and now, that
Christianity can’t be measured by the ususal signs of
institutional success: the size of church buildings; the numbers
of adherents; acceptance and esteem in the world; influence in
the halls of power; acceptance by world media; achievements of
individual members; invitations to sit at prominent places at
political banquets, etc. The evangelist stresses Jesus’
rejection of worldly approval and his insistence that his
disciples must be found in the least likely places: on the wrong
side of the tracks and of popular opinion; among the neglected
and rejected; supporting just causes; protecting the environment
against "progress," etc. Mark has proposed to his readers that
in the eyes of the world and maybe even to some Christians,
Jesus’ followers look like failures and are the least
significant. But then, what else would they look like, if they
were following their Master who came, as he said, not "to be
served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many."
I don’t know what to do with the first reading
from Isaiah. It is short and terribly off-putting. In addition,
it seems to confirm people’s worse fears about God, especially
the One some facilely call, "The God of the Old Testament." God
sounds cruel and even sadistic in this brief reading: "The Lord
was pleased to crush him in infirmity." I am sure some people
suffering disease or recent loss will hear a very discouraging
message in the Isaiah reading. They, who may already be feeling
alone, may be made to feel even more bereft since not even God
seems to be on their side in their pain. Does it really "please"
God to "crush" someone with infirmity – especially a servant of
God? If that is so, who would want to serve, or get close to
this God? How could a just God punish a faithful servant?
Wouldn’t we expect, instead, that God comes to rescue the just
one from suffering or, at least, to strengthen a good person
through his/her trials?
As a preacher I find this all-too-brief
selection in the Sunday lectionary very unfortunate. Perhaps the
one who suffers sets an example to others by patiently bearing
the agony and not turning away from God. If so, some good may
come from the suffering, but all in all, I would vote for
another reading that would get this message across with less
"baggage." Am I alone in thinking this way, or do other
preachers find this reading an unfortunate selection this
Click here for a link
to this Sunday’s readings:
ONE GOOD BOOK FOR THE PREACHER
Sense of Mystery: A Primer of Theological Thinking," by
John J, Markey, O.P. (Winona, MN: Anselm Academic Publications, 2018)
The author begins by posing a question, "What is
the meaning of life?" There are innumerable secular and
religious responses to this question. This book explores how our
own Christian tradition responds to the mystery of God’s
existence, presence and involvement in our lives. Preacher and
layperson will be encouraged to reflect on their own experience
of mystery and its meaning for their lives.
JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD
The Lord loves
justice and right and fills the earth with goodness.
In reading the above quote, I find myself
contemplating how I view Jesus. It seems that it is easy to see
Jesus in his divinity, his perfection crowned with the term
"Messiah" or "Christ," but much less so, in his humanity, even
though we hear his stories every week. How did he manage to
remain nonviolent in the face of so much of the unjust misery he
shared? What did Jesus propose that would make the religious
authorities and Roman Empire feel so threatened?
Fr. John Heagle, in Justice Rising: The
Emerging Biblical Vision (Orbis, 2010), writes, "In his
solidarity with the blind, the lame, the imprisoned, the
paralyzed, the leperous, the mentally ill, and the social
outcasts, Jesus is already signaling the pathway toward becoming
the ‘new humanity.’ Any community that reaches out to its most
vulnerable members with inclusive love and liberating justice is
embodying this same vision." Today, we have many groups that are
modeling Jesus’ life of self-giving in order to stand for
justice. This spirit can be found in Maryknoll, Catholic Worker
houses, Sojourners, Commissions on Truth and Reconciliation, Pax
Christi, the Community of Sant’ Egidio, Pace e Bene, the Ground
Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, Network, the Jesuit Volunteer
Corps, Catholic Relief Services, the list goes on. We have
parishioners that are on fire to live out the lay mission "to
renew the temporal order and seek the justice of the kingdom of
God" called for in the Vatican II document on the laity (7). We
also have parishioners who model Jesus’ life in solidarity with
the poor through charitable works. I would add that such
communities, organizations, and parishioners as these "fill the
earth with goodness."
The Vatican II document adds one other important
point as regards justice. "The demands of justice must first of
all be satisfied; what is already due in justice is not to be
offered as a gift in charity. The causes of evils, and not
merely their effects, should be eliminated" (8). Here is the
rub--we live in a culture that promotes the powerful often to
the detriment of the vulnerable. This is the hard work of
emulating Jesus because we may not see the particular injustice
we seek to end actually end. God’s kingdom of justice and right
is at hand; we just need to keep its vision alive in our hearts
and active in our hands.
---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS
of Social Justice Ministries
Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture
readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also
brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people
From today’s Hebrews reading:
For we do not have a
who is unable to
sympathize with our weaknesses,
but one who has
similarly been tested in every way,
yet without sin.
Hebrews reminds us that the One who has shared
our human lot of suffering and temptation is now enthroned in
the heavenly realm. But his position "on high" does not make him
unapproachable and above our struggles. Thus, when we approach
Christ in prayer we can expect mercy and a sympathetic hearing
from his "throne of grace."
So we ask ourselves:
Do we expect mercy from Christ each time we
ask for it?
Then, how does that mercy show itself in how
we treat others?
POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES
"One has to strongly affirm that
condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that
humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten
people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space
several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a
postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not
forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them
through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death
Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen
Please write to:
Tomothy White #0434845 (On death row since
Michael Holmes #0189289 (9/8/00)
Shan Carter #0486636 (3/19/01)
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center,
Raleigh, NC 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic position on
the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:
Also, check the interfaith page for People of
Faith Against the Death Penalty:
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