[Homily: Mark 10:35-45]
Jesus had twelve apostles. Two of them in the Gospel account for today, James and John, made a play for special favor with Jesus. When Jesus would come into his glory, they wanted the honor of sitting at his right and at his left. It was an unabashed, if not shameless, move for privilege and honor, giving them advantage over the other ten apostles. Naturally, the others resented it.
Jesus did not respond to them in anger. He asked whether they knew what they were asking. Coming that close to him, to be at his left and at his right, he knew, would cause them suffering and pain. “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” Without thinking they said yes, not understanding that the cup that he would drink would be the cup of his blood shed in oneness with his Father’s work of reconciliation with creation and humanity, not understanding that the baptism he would undergo was his suffering and death on the cross for which he was raised. They said yes, they would drink of this cup and undergo this baptism. And Jesus accepted their yes, disclosing to them that his ordeal in the service of his Father’s will would indeed also be theirs.
But he also told them that the places at his left and at his right were not his to give but reserved for those for whom it had been prepared.
The brazen move of James and John and the consequent resentment of the other apostles became a teaching moment for Jesus and his apostles:
Greatness would have to be linked with service. “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all” (Mk 10:43-44).
Service would have to be linked with the Cross, as it was with Jesus’ service. “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45),
Jesus served others in many ways. Recall Jesus saving the newly weds from embarrassment by changing water into wine (Jn 2:1-11). Recall Jesus healing the son of the nobleman of Capernaum (Jn 4:46-53). Recall Jesus feeding the great multitude at the Sea of Tiberias (Jn 6: 1-4). Recall Jesus announcing the good news of the Kingdom of God, preaching repentance and belief in the Gospel (Mk 1:15). Recall Jesus teaching what the Kingdom of God entails (Mt. 5,6,7) and calling us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our mind, and with all our strength and our neighbor as ourselves (Mk 12:30). Recall Jesus making the blind see, the lepers clean, the deaf hear, the dead rise up, and preaching the Gospel to the poor (Mt 11:5). Recall Jesus attacking the Scribes and Pharisees in their hypocrisy, condemning them for making it difficult for people to approach his Father (Mt. 23:13-29). Recall Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. (Jn 13:3-11). This was Jesus service to us, human beings.
But in serving us, Jesus was more profoundly serving his Father, who, looking upon our suffering and our estrangement from him, willed our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins, and worked out reconciliation with all through the Son. This is expressed by Paul profoundly in the letter to the Colossians (1:9-23). It is a magnificent passage:
15The Son is the image [the full manifestation, the perfect representation, the incarnation for us] of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
21Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of g your evil behavior. 22But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.
Jesus’ service of the Father, his service of working out his Father’s reconciliation with all creation and ourselves continues, inviting us to be servants of reconciliation through the faith we have in him, to be part of the Father’s reaching out in compassion and love to people who no longer believe, to people who are victims of injustice, to people whose lives are emaciated by poverty, to people who are objects of cruel cultural discrimination, to people caught up in endless conflict, conflict among nations or religions, but oftentimes conflicts between husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister, to people on the brink of despair, to reconcile them with his love, his compassion, his forgiveness “through blood of his Son, shed on the cross.” The Father was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in his Son, and it is in this fullness that the Son comes to bring us “life, life to the full” (Jn 10:10), reconciling all truncated life, all emaciated life, all deformed life with the fullness of life the Father wills for us through his Son. He has even taken us in our alienation, our sin, our self-distancing from him, and reconciled us with himself in fullness of life, so that Christ might present us to the Father holy, without blemish and without guilt – if we continue to put our faith in him, “to walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing him, being fruitful in every good work” (Col 1:10).
James and John wanted easy glory, at Jesus’ right side and left.
But “….the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45). This was his glory.
For this reason: “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all” (Mk 10:43-44).
This not for our glory, but for the glory of the Father, who reconciles creation and us with himself through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross.