In recent weeks, the double theme of discipleship and the necessary reality of suffering for the Gospel has appeared regularly. Today’s scripture readings address this mysterious necessity yet again. We all know that preaching the truth and sacrificing our reputation can often be seen as bad. So can suffering – we don’t like to see it, or feel it, or talk about it. In fact, there are a lot of Christians out there who love the cross, but hate the crucifix because it seems too brutal. None of us want to suffer, but yet there is something redemptive, something heroic, about suffering. And it teaches us about the heart of Christ.
But if we don’t understand suffering, it’s hard for us to understand these readings. When we begin to read this section of the Prophet Isaiah we realize that the Prophet speaks to us about someone in his own time who was able to love others enough so that he could offer his life for them. Although this is not a popular image for our culture today, most of us still admire a person who is able to give himself totally to the service of others. This is certainly part of the reason there was such great admiration for Mother Theresa of Calcutta. Even at a totally secular level, when we meet people who are truly working for others, generally we have great admiration for them, even though we might not want to imitate them.
In today’s Gospel text from Mark, we find James and John, the Zebedee brothers, completely missing the point of Jesus’ Gospel ministry. They are completely self-absorbed and self-serving. (In Matthew’s Gospel’s parallel, it is the mother of James and John, Mrs. Zebedee, who asks Jesus for this favor, also completely missing the point of his recent Passion Predictions. Jesus points out, yet another time, and ever more clearly, that discipleship necessitates a willingness to embrace all that comes with preaching the truth, and ministering to sinners, including suffering of all sorts, even death.
The other 10 of the chosen 12 are indignant about all of this, not because they are so pure and disinterested, they seem to be indignant probably that they did not think of it first, although the story doesn’t tell us that. All of this gives Jesus an opportunity to teach that the most important thing is to learn how to serve others. We must become the slave of others, and that is a very strong statement. We need to serve and to give our lives as a ransom for others, just as Jesus did.
The letter to the Hebrews claimed: Jesus became perfect through suffering; he matured through suffering, life, and death. He chose to accept reality. He chose to love in a world that is frightened to love. He accepted the reality of being excluded, the reality of death, rather than withdraw from his own truth, and the reality of living authentically. He trusted God; and, in the process, he became the source of salvation for all those who attune their deepest selves, their hearts, to the rhythm of his deepest self.
Today, therefore, we reflect on how Jesus came among us. He came as the one sent by the Father to bring us new life, yet he came among us as seeking to serve rather than to be served. We reflect also that for us, his followers, his way of life sets us a pattern for how we should live. In a world filled with the suffering caused by power struggles Jesus reminds us that our community here must display a different way of being human: Anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be a servant of all. Jesus invites us to share in His life and in His suffering so that our world can be redeemed. I am not sure how far I can go in suffering but I want to go as far as possible for the love of the Lord and to love others. How about you?
Fr. JuliusBACK TO LIST