Sunday Reflection - 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Posted: Sat, 16 Oct 2021 17:10
Today we meet the delightful sons of Zebedee, James and John. They are two of those most trusted band of Jesus' disciples. Already in Mark's gospel, we have seen Jesus reminding them of the need to have a child-like attitude, reminding them that 'whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it' (Mk 10:15). Like Peter, James and John do not always get it right and do and say silly things. Personally, I find it very encouraging that, even the apostles, our first leaders in faith, make mistakes. It is disciples like these who tried to get rid of the children and move them on. It is the children who can see the integrity and wisdom of Jesus; it is the children who can see beyond the apostles' doubts and fears.
It is James and John who are presented as being delusional, as they fail to fully understand what it means to 'forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me' (Mk 8:34). In spite of everything that Jesus has said about the reality of reign of God, these two just do not get it. They still want the glory of resurrection without the pain of Good Friday. Like Peter, they want to avoid pain. Sadly, we still meet Christians today who see our faith as one glorious 'bind us together, Lord!' They think that, by quoting the Bible and occupying key places in church, that their salvation is assured. The truth brought by Jesus is meant to set us free: it is a truth that enables us to fully live the gospel message, a truth that is real, a truth that is challenging and will hurt if we embrace it fully. James and John want to skip the difficulties and make their request, 'When you sit on your throne in your glorious Kingdom, we want you to let us sit with you, one at your right and one at your left' (Mk 10:37). Like many of us, they are drawn to the thought of power and control over others, whereas Jesus shows them, in word and deed, true power is about service and availability.
If we look at the greatest politicians like Nelson Mandela, we often can see flawed characters who desperately want the very best for their citizens. He was able to reflect that 'real leaders must be able to sacrifice all for the good of their people...it is all too easy to break down and destroy. The real heroes are those who build up and make peace.' Like Jesus, he offers us a glimpse of what true leadership is all about, even in our broken societies. The one who is looking for acclaim and leadership with naked ambition, is perhaps the one you should avoid—nobody has the 'right' to lead, it must come with honesty and dedication. At election time, political candidates can promise you the earth: if you vote for them, the world can be your oyster! In reality, once elections are won, very few of those promises are fulfilled. Jesus is not a politician, but he does promise a reality of love, care and service for those who truly follow his Way. Jesus is not about power, and privilege and he realises that his apostles need to share his vision. All of us face issues and difficulties and these past twenty months have made them all too obvious. It may be that we are like the rest of the disciples, and we are jealous of another's success or achievements. We want to be part of the reign of God on our own terms.
Jesus makes it very clear, once again, that true discipleship involves undying service. Jesus offers us the true definition of greatness in answering James and John: 'if one of you wants to be great, you must be the servant of the rest; and if one of you wants to be first, you must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve and to give his life to redeem many people' (Mk 10:43-45).
This notion of service is reflected throughout the gospel and seen in the action and words of Jesus. This week is your personal invitation to serve. In this coming week, you will have those chances. It could be something as simple as responding to an email. You may be asked to do something more demanding such as sitting with someone hurting deeply. Sometimes it only takes your presence, a welcoming smile or a 'cheeky cuppa' to make all the difference. This week, please answer the call to serve the great mystic, Thomas Merton, who sees the need to give of ourselves, when he reflects:
'For if I am to love truly and freely, I must be able to give something that is truly my own to another. If my heart does not first belong to me, how can I give it to another?'
Author: Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB
Image: Background Source Welker Photography