The Lectionary Readings for this weekend, the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Is 53:10-11 – Suffering and Triumph of the Servant of the Lord
Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22 – Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.
Heb 4:14-16 – Jesus, Compassionate High Priest
Mk 10:35-45 – Ambition of James and John
This Sunday is also World Mission Sunday. Resources on World Mission Sunday:
The first reading, from Isaiah’s Suffering Servant Song, shows an appointed representative in Isaiah’s prophetic vision as being the victim of the salvation of all. “By his sufferings shall my servant justify many.” Isaiah perhaps saw some historical figure, or his own suffering, or the suffering of Israel, as this victim who would redeem the world by his suffering. But the early Church Fathers, following the lead of the Lord Himself, saw Jesus as being the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy. Quotes of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant Song are all over the gospel narratives, especially as they get closer to describing the Lord’s Crucifixion. Meditating deeply on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, and sympathizing with the anguish, scourging, humiliation, suffering, and death that Jesus endured in His love for each one of us can bring us to a deeper experience of gratitude for His sacrifice of Love.
The Letter to the Hebrews, which we began two weeks ago, and will read through until Advent, was written to the Jewish converts to Christianity. Having become Christian, they suffered some loss to morale–and cultural identity–because they had given up their Jewish cultural markers, such as rituals, sacrifices, the priesthood etc. The Temple was eventually destroyed by the Romans in the year 70, and synagogue service, led by rabbis, replaced the Temple ceremonies, led by the priests. But to assauge the sense of loss by the Jewish Christians, the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews tries to show them how they still have all these “missing” things, and in a better form in Christianity than they had them in Judaism. Jesus is the true High Priest, superior to and far better than the Jewish priests because He, the Son of God, was greater than the Temple, was both High Priest and the Lamb of Sacrifice, and shared our fragile, suffering humanity. Therefore, we have access to a far greater claim to mercy and compassion, because of Jesus (God saves his people from their sins) who is Emmanuel (God with us).
Jesus, who is God incarnate, the Son of God, the greatest being in all of existence, teaches us how to be humble. In words attributed to C.S. Lewis, “Humility is not thinking less of oneself; it is thinking of oneself less.” Or put another way, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; humility is thinking less about yourself.” St. James and St. John, for all their credit and virtue, really missed the mark in today’s Gospel. In wanting to be at the right and left of Jesus when he came into his reign, they still apparently had the understanding of an earthly territorial kingdom, probably the restoration of Israel as an independent earthly kingdom. Jesus, aware of the ambition of James and John, challenges them with the requirements of glory in His Kingdom: humility, sacrifice, and suffering. The other apostles, also aware of the ambition of James and John, became indignant at their attempted bamboozling into the top spots. So Jesus explains to his disciples what it means to rule: it means putting everyone’s interests ahead of your own. It means doing whatever it takes for everyone else to be successful. It means humble service. It means suffering for others, even if they are unappreciative and disrespectful. To close with another quote from the great C. S. Lewis, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” If you want a sense of how difficult humility can be, go to the Prayers page of the website, and with all your energy, pray the Litany of Humility. Now that’s really uncomfortable!