21 October 2018 29th Sunday of the Year (B)

21 October 2018 29th Sunday of the Year (B)

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day: The Servant Church

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Isaiah 53:10-11). If he offers his life in atonement, he shall see his heirs, he shall have a long life. Like the passage immediately preceding this (Isaiah 53:7-8; “Like a lamb he was led to the slaughter”) this reading invites the question: “About whom, may I ask, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” The question concerning the preceding text was that pit by the Ethiopian eunuch to the deacon Philip (Acts 8:32-34). Scripture scholars down the centuries have asked the same question, and in our own day continue to do so. In any event the person in question is the Servant of the Lord, whose sufferings have been described in the earlier part of this biblical text. This reading is the end of the last of the Servant Songs, and speaks of the triumph of the Servant through God’s omnipotent power. The Servant has offered his life in atonement. By his sufferings the Servant will justify many. Viewed in themselves, without the New Testament fulfilment, questions call for an answer with regard to the identity of this Servant of the Lord: Is the Servant the prophet himself, someone else, or the suffering and purified Israel, God’s chosen people? As the deacon Philip explained to the Ethiopian eunuch, the answer is clear. The Servant is Jesus, through whose humiliations, sufferings, death and resurrection God’s purpose has been fulfilled, through whom many are reconciled with God. Jesus has suffered for their sins, has taken them on himself.1
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Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 32[33]). May your love be upon us, O Lord, as we place all our hope in you.

Second Reading (Hebrews 14:14-16). Let us be confident in approaching the throne of grace. The Christian community to which this letter was addressed was suffering some trials and was tempted to forsake faith in Christ. The author had already reminded them of the importance of continuing faithful to Christ, warning them against unbelief (Hebrews 3:7-19). In this present reading he gives further basis for fidelity and trust in Christ. In the Jewish liturgy the high priest was central to the Day of Atonement services. For Christians Jesus was priest, high priest, even the great high priest. Christ made atonement for sin. But as High Priest he was no remote figure. At his ascension, his exaltation, he passed through the heavens, so to speak, to be seated at God’s right hand, but to make intercession for sinners and sufferers. At the right hand of the Father he was still the incarnate Son of God who had become fully human and had lived, been tempted, and suffered as is true of all mortals. He fully understands human weaknesses. This calls for unbounded confidence in his followers when they are tempted to abandon faith in him. They should approach their great High Priest with confidence. He fully understands them.

Gospel (Mark 10:35-45). The Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many. In the passage immediately preceding this one, Jesus has given the third prediction of his passion, describing in great detail the humiliations, suffering and death in store for him in Jerusalem, but with the prediction that on the third day he would rise again. Jesus is presented as walking ahead of the band of disciples. In this reading the two brothers James and John, two of the three intimates of Jesus (the third is Peter), come forward to make their request, one that indicated that they had no understanding of the sad events that were soon to take place, or of the mystery that was the saving plan of God through Jesus. For them their self-interest came first. Their request was for the two best positions (at Jesus, right and left hand) in his future “glory”, by which, presumably, his earthly coming kingdom is meant. Jesus’ reply as to their ability to drink the cup he must drink probably refers to his passion. In Gethsemane he will ask the Father to remove, if possible, “this cup from him”. The “baptism with which Jesus is to be baptized” is a metaphor for overwhelming calamity, represented by flood waters (see Psalm 42:7; Isaiah 43:2). The two brothers say they are able to drink the cup, and are told they will. One of them, James, was early put to death (Acts 12:1-2). Jesus reminds them that the giving of honours was not his affair, but that of his Father, The “glory” of Christ, the “kingdom” that would emerge after his death and resurrection were far removed from what James and John had expected.

The second part of the reading is a warning against self promotion among the apostles, and Church leaders. Christ must be their model, who came to serve, not to be served, and in the words of the reading “to give his life as a ransom for many”. In a sense these words are similar to those of the blessing over the chalice: “This is my blood of the New Testament which will be shed for many” (Mark 14:24). A ransom can have many meanings, a common one being money or its kind paid to redeem a pledge, a pawned object, a slave, captives – hardly the meaning here in Mark. In the Bible, in the context of the liberation, redemption, from Egypt it can simply mean redemption, without any money or its kind being paid. Jesus’ death will redeem the new Israel, as God did for the forefathers, freeing, redeeming, them from Egypt.

B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day: The Servant Church

The Church is often criticized today for being far removed from the teaching and model set by Jesus and put before us in Mark’s Gospel – and rightly so. In the first instance Jesus’ words are addressed to his apostles. The model of the then civil government was not to be for them. Jesus’ teaching on service, and being servants one another in the Christian community became common and is central, for instance, to Pauline teaching on the Christian community. Central to the message of today’s Gospel reading is Christ himself as model; self-promotion takes attention away from this.

But to return to the apostles and their successors: the model of service is central to Paul. For the sake of the Gospel he became the servant of all, to win all for Christ. As Jesus reminded his apostles, anyone wishing to become great was to be the servant of all. This did not take from the mission to preach the Gospel. As ministers of the Gospel all were equal, with the same mission from God. The apostle Paul could present himself as the servant of all, but could make it clear that as apostle he preached the Gospel with the confidence that came from his apostolic calling. He could say: “Not I say, but the Lord”. He handed on what he himself had received from the Lord and from earlier Christian tradition.

Applying the Gospel message to the Church of our own day, we can certainly say that the message of being servants of one another applies to the successors of the apostles, and to all Christians. While criticizing the Church for deviation from the Gospel message, one may also note that this should not take from the Church’s prophetic mission to preach the full Gospel message as required in our own day, without fear or favour. In so doing the Church has the model of St Paul, all things to all people, as minister of the Gospel of God.