Fr. Rudy's Homilies
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Brothers and sisters: Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him,
"Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." He replied,
"What do you wish me to do for you?" They answered him, "Grant that in your
glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left." Jesus said
to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I
drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" They said
to him, "We can." Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink, you will drink,
and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;
Jesus summoned them and said to them, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."
This became such a contentious situation that Paul and Barnabas even parted ways. There is also something unique when Jesus was arrested. Mark's gospel points out that there was a young man who followed Jesus when he was arrested. The guards tried to seize the young man and they grabbed hold of his linen garment, but he escaped, running naked. Church history claims that this was Mark. These things being the case, we see that Mark was a bit timid and unsure. He had a difficult time doing what he should have done for the gospel.
Perhaps Mark's own sin and weakness colors certain emphases in his gospel. One of the things that makes Mark's gospel somewhat unique is how time and time again, people are told to do things, but they do the opposite or they completely misunderstand. For example, Mark's gospel is the only one of the gospels that records the women at the empty tomb departing in fear and telling no one for a time.
Our gospel for today focuses in on two disciples who want to do just the opposite of what they should do. What stands out in Mark's gospel is chapter 8:34. Jesus says, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and pick up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it." This is the crux of the gospel, yet we see over and over again in the gospel how the disciples and others actually fail to properly pick up their cross and follow Jesus.
We see people more concerned with saving their lives, rather than losing their lives for Christ's and the gospel's sake. This is exactly what is happening in the gospel for today. James and John, sons of Zebedee make a request to Jesus. Matthew says that they have their mother make the request. Mark gets to the heart of it, because its' really James and John who want it. "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and another at your left in your glory."
This comes right after another one of Jesus' passion predictions. Jesus foretold his death and resurrection. James and John let sinful ambitions get the better of them. They were probably thinking that if all this was really going down, then they better get there ducks in a row. After all, there is always a certain pecking order of sorts, so they thought they would try to show some initiative and leadership. They wanted to be co-rulers and co-heirs with Jesus in glory.
Did they really understand heaven or the kingdom? They didn't know what they were asking, because to sit with Jesus in glory was to put themselves equal to Jesus. Jesus understood these two brothers, and He knew that they didn't really know what they were asking. Jesus asks them a question which could be taken a couple of ways. Jesus asks, "Are you able to drink the chalice that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism that I am to be baptized with?" They correctly answer yes, but they meant something different than Jesus. Christ's chalice, or, cup, was the cup of suffering. Christ's baptism was a baptism in His own blood. James and John could not go there. They were sinners. They could not redeem mankind from sin. Only Jesus could do that. But Jesus says to them, "you are correct, the chalice that I drink, you will drink and the baptism that I am baptized with, you will be baptized with." But Jesus meant this by means of transferrable. Christ's cup and baptism consisted of His cross. His cup was His pain and suffering and the Father's removal of Himself from Jesus on the cross. James and John would participate in this cup and baptism through the sacraments which were instituted. The reason is simple. Jesus instituted the sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord's Supper because His merits won on the cross are poured into the sacraments. Therefore, when James and John would later gather around an altar with the church and participate in these sacraments, they would drink the cup of Christ and be baptized with His baptism. James and John resemble us. We want to be lords, every one of us. We want to be heard, we want the glory. It is this way in the church. Get a bunch of people together in the church and you can bet that there will be some problems. Sin is selfish. Adam and Eve wanted to be like God. This is how sin entered the world. They took of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil because they wanted something that was not theirs to have. Satan is the same way.
James and John wanted what was not theirs to have. The rest of the disciples were angry at the brothers' request and rightly so. But Peter was no different and neither are you. Who rules the church? Who sits with Jesus? Who deserves to sit with Jesus? This way of thinking and practicing one's life will destroy faith and the church. This is why Jesus follows up by saying, "whoever would be first among you, must be slave of all; For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many."
The Beatitudes speak the same way. Therein lies the pattern. The greatest of the saints are the humble. It is often the quiet ones, the prayerful ones who do the most for the kingdom. It is the gentle and lowly who are the greatest. Why? Is it some great act that they perform? No. It is because they trust in the Lord and take their problems and the problems of the church to the humblest and greatest, Jesus Christ. This theme runs all throughout the book of Proverbs. I often think of Proverbs 22:3, "A prudent man seeks danger and hides himself; but the simple go on and are punished."
There is much to this and this is what Jesus is discussing. The nature and character of the church is to do what St. Paul says, "to lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way"(1 Tim 2:2). To the Thessalonians Paul says, "But we exhort you, brethren, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we charged you."(1 Thess. 4:11).
The gospel indicates that it is Christ's will that the church not be like the world. The world is full of rulers. The church is the gathering of the humble servants of Christ. Prayer on our lips, forgiveness ready when there is repentance, and love that overflows. You cannot do this on your own, however. We enter this beautiful body of Christ through baptism, but we enter with sins. Repent of them, all of them.
Jesus forgives you of your sins. He died on the cross and was the only true servant that this world has ever seen, and He did it for the sins of the world, even your sins. To become a peaceful, quiet Christian and then Church takes the Holy Spirit's leading through the word and sacraments. It can be done. Jesus must do the leading and the following. This is why we drink of His cup and pick up our crosses and follow Jesus through Holy Baptism. The love of Christ and the merits of His cross make your soul and this church a beautiful, quiet, pleasant place that gives us a brief respite from the world while we sojourn on this pilgrimage. Amen.
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