Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Oct 18)
Homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Oct 18)
The thing that joins the two integrated readings today, the Old Testament reading and the Gospel, is the very early theology of Jesus as a servant taking on the sins of us all and offering himself in sacrifice in our place. Isaiah talks about the righteous one, who is God’s servant, making many right with God by bearing their iniquities, carrying their wickedness. Isaiah says that this servant’s life is an offering for sin, not his own, but others’ sin. Not only that he will be in pain – he will be a suffering servant.
Very early on these prophecies of Isaiah were seen by the early church to be referenced to Jesus, and that the prophecies had come true. It helped them especially to make some sense of the senseless death of their friend and teacher. By looking backward to the prophecies of Isaiah they were able to piece together a theology of redemption – where one divine person was to suffer and die to compensate for the sins of the world.
I am sure that the initial death of Jesus had to throw the followers into more than panic that their leader had been killed. More, what was going to happen to them, what would happen to his teachings, what disappointment over the expectant messiah, what craziness to kill such a gentle, miracle man!
I am sure it took time and the influence of the Holy Spirit for the group to sort it out. The fact that they stayed together and still believed in what Jesus said was a real tribute to his followers. Often when a leader is killed, the others run off in all directions.
Writing the first Gospel, Mark has had the time, twenty years or more, to reflect on this situation, to go back to the Word of God in the Old Testament and notice the prophecies which seem to have been written with Jesus in mind. He then incorporates this throughout his Gospel so that that others can see that the story of God is a progression that moves toward and away from Jesus till he comes again.
We see this in the Isaiah reading today which seems to a Christian to be an apt description of exactly what Jesus life had accomplished. “The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities,” Isaiah foretold.
In today’s reading Mark shows Isaiah’s ‘servant’ comment with the little power struggle going on with the Apostles. We have seen again and again in Mark that the apostles were rather clueless and often just didn’t get the paradigm shift that Jesus was preaching. James and John ask, metaphorically perhaps, to sit at Jesus’ table in heaven. This is basically a power grab. The people who sit at the right and left of the host are the most honored guests, and of course, James and John knew that.
Then Jesus asks if they are up to letting what happens to Jesus happen to them. At this point, they don’t know he will be crucified, of course. They reply that they can take it, whatever. Jesus explains that though he would do what he could for them, it was not his decision to pick the most honored guests – it was God’s. But they would share in his drink and his baptism. Little did they know that this meant his death and his suffering. Well, they got half their wish, anyway!
When the other Apostles heard what they had asked, they got pretty upset – they saw it for what it is was – a grab for power and favoritism in the group. They were pretty rough and tough men, and I am sure they made their feelings clear to James and John.
Time for an object lesson, saw Jesus! He called the group together and explained for the first time his theory of power and greatness. It must have made very little sense to the apostles when they first heard it because it was revolutionary – totally against the thinking of the time.
The powerful men that they knew – the Roman rulers and the Jewish leaders all lorded it over each other, doing what they wanted and thought best, and maintained a tight control over everyone.
But Jesus turns it around as he will once again at the Last Supper.
If you want to be great, Jesus said, you must lower yourself to be the servant of everyone – in fact, not just a servant, but a slave. The concerns of others must be your concern. Pleasing others must be your concern. Doing the wishes of others must be your concern.
Not the usual way of looking at power and greatness, even today, though it seems to me democracy should come close to it if the leader really does listen to his electorate and try to act on their needs and wishes. That’s the theory, isn’t it?
What does this mean for us this week? How can we be better servants to others, particularly those we have some control over. Many parents are able to balance this need to be a parent with knowing and understanding the needs of the children as well. But, if you are in charge of anyone – in an office, or as head of a committee, or as a Board member – how can you increase serving the needs of others and thinking of your own needs less. When I came in as the new principal of a large high school, I knew that the person I replaced had been a bit of a dictatorial leader. At my first staff meeting, instead of talking at everyone, I asked them to break into groups and discuss what were their greatest priorities for the school year. No one even moved. Finally, one of them got up and said, “We don’t do things like discuss here! Just tell us what to do, and we’ll do it.” It took me bout three years to get them to see that I really was interested in what they had to say and would move in the directions that the group needed and wanted. I think they actually ended up liking it – though I lost a few in that paradigm change.
I also want you to consider being a servant to other church members here. At base, what this means is that you don’t come to church for yourself – you are here because it is important to the others here. Without you, there is a gap…something is missing. Just coming as regularly as you can is being a servant to the others in the congregation.
Look around this week and see if there are ways to put Christ’s servant-leadership into practice in your life. You might be amazed at what happens, and how freeing it actually becomes for you as well.
This is some Good News that we can all work at and I wish you well in trying it.
Bishop Ron Stephens
Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
[Prepare for next year! Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]