Oct. 21st, 2018: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B. Mark 10:35-45.
AIM: To encourage the hearers to find fulfillment through service.
ABe careful what you pray for C you might get it.@ This familiar saying came back to me this week when a friend sent me a set of ARules for Life.@ One of them was this: ARemember that not getting what you want can be a wonderful stroke of luck.@ We all think we know best what is good for us, what will make us happy. Often, however, we are wrong.
In the gospel reading a few moments ago we heard Jesus trying to teach this lesson to two of his friends. ATeacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you,@ the brothers James and John say to Jesus. They are asking Jesus to sign a blank check. They will fill in the amount when they get it. Jesus might have told the two that their request was presumptuous. That would have put them on the defensive. People who feel they must defend themselves are not open to new insights. So Jesus asks simply: AWhat do you wish me to do for you?@
AGrant that in your glory we may sit one at your right hand and the other on your left.@ That was presumptuous. Jesus still does not rebuke them. Instead he tells them that they have no idea what they are asking. To drive home the lesson he challenges them with a question: ACan you drink of the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?@
AWe can,@ the brothers reply lightheartedly.
Clearly they have no idea what lies ahead for the Master they love and revere. The cup Jesus refers to will contain bitter suffering. His baptism will be, this time, not in water but in blood. Had James and John understood that, they would not have been so eager to claim places on his right and left. Those places, Jesus tells them, are Afor those for whom it has been prepared@ C a reference, we recognize today, to the two thieves between whom Jesus would be crucified.
James and John have understood none of this. The indignation of their fellow disciples on learning what the brothers have been up to continues the misunderstanding. They are upset because two of their number have staked out a claim before they could assert theirs. Patiently Jesus explains that this whole contest for power and honor is totally unacceptable among his followers. AWhoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.@ Jesus reinforces this teaching with his own example: AFor the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.@ In Jesus= language that expression, Afor many@ was actually Afor the many@ C which was another way of saying, Afor all.@ Jesus died not just for some C not just for Catholics or for Christians. He died for all. We are reminded of this in every Mass when we hear Jesus= words at the Last Supper: AThis is the cup of my blood ... It will be shed for you and for all.@
The first citizens of God=s kingdom are those who, like Jesus himself, seek not to be served, but to serve. On this
Sunday we think of the countless women and men all over the world who are happy
to live for years far from their homelands, to serve as missionaries, bringing
to others the gospel B the good news that God loves sinners. They have discovered
the secret of true greatness, and true happiness. Let me give you are three
further examples of people who seek not to be served but to serve, first
citizens of God=s kingdom.
The first is a woman who died 21 years ago in
She was scarcely five feet tall. She had an oversized nose and a deeply lined
face. At her death the only things she owned were two white saris edged in blue
and a wooden bucket to wash in. Born eighty-seven years before in India , she
was known to the world as Mother Teresa. Originally a Sister of Loretto, she
was principal of a school for girls in Albania .
In 1946 she was traveling by train to her annual retreat when she received what
she termed Aa call within a call: to give up all
and follow Jesus into the slums C to serve him in the poorest of the
She began in a single room, with no companions and five rupees, then about a dollar. She started a school for slum children. Later she began caring for people dying in the streets C the start of several hostels for the dying which continue in
today. Slowly others joined her. Over the next half-century the growth of
Mother Teresa=s Missionaries of Charity became a
twentieth century miracle. In a day in which, in our country alone, over 10,000
Sisters have left the convent, Mother Teresa=s Sisters numbered, at her death,
3,700 in 122 countries C all inspired by a
woman who sought not to be served but to serve, to be the slave of all. She is now St. Teresa of Calcutta . Calcutta
My next first citizen of the kingdom is a married woman, the mother of three children. When her first child was born twenty-five years ago she was already a successful lawyer, with prospects of a lucrative career. She decided that her children were more important than a career and the income it would bring. In time she bore two more children. Two of them are now young adults; the third is a freshman in college. All three are young people that any parents would kill for: hard-working, courteous, generous and giving. Where did they get those qualities? They got them from their parents C first from the mother who sacrificed a professional career because she considered her children more important.
AI never thought of it as a sacrifice,@ she told me once. But it was none-theless. It is an example of what Jesus was talking about when he told us to seek not to be served but to serve. This woman, like Mother Teresa, is another first citizen of God=s kingdom. There are others here in our parish. If I don=t speak about them, it is because I don=t want to embarrass anyone.
My final example is Pope St. John Paul II. Thirty years ago, on October 16th, 1978, the cardinals elected him Bishop of Rome. Then a vigorous, athletic man of 58, we remember him today old, bent, and ailing. A few months before his eightieth birthday Pope John Paul issued a letter ATo my elderly brothers and sisters.@ Let me conclude by reading to you the closing passage.
ADespite the limitations brought on by age, I continue to enjoy life. For this I thank the Lord. It is wonderful to be able to give oneself to the very end for the sake of the
At the same time, I find great peace in thinking of the time when the Lord will
call me: from life to life! And so I find myself saying, with no trace of
melancholy, a prayer recited by priests after the celebration of the Eucharist:
>At the hour of my death, call me and
bid me come to you.= This is the prayer of Christian hope, which in no way
detracts from the joy of the present, while entrusting the future to God=s gracious and loving care. Kingdom of God
A>Bid me come to you!= [the Pope continued]. This is the deepest yearning of the human heart, even in those who are not conscious of it. Grant, O Lord of life, that we may be ever vividly aware of this and that we may savor every season of our lives as a gift filled with promise for the future. Grant that we may lovingly accept your will, and place ourselves each day in your merciful hands. And when the moment of our definitive >passage= comes, grant that we may face it with serenity, without regret for what we shall leave behind. For in meeting you, after having sought you for so long, we shall find once more every authentic good which we have known here on earth, in the company of all who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and hope.@