Reading 1: Isaiah 53:10-11
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm: 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22
Reading 2: Hebrews: 4:14-16
Gospel: Mark: 10:35-45
Autumn can be a very pleasant time in the Midwest. The sunny days without excessive heat and humidity make long walks in the woods an enjoyable way to spend the day. Still, the nip in the air and the shorter days are harbingers of what lies ahead: winter with its snow and freezing temperatures. The pleasant fall days will give way to harsh winter ones.
The Scriptural lessons that the Church reads as Ordinary Time draws to a close also have a foreboding tenor. The Church recalls the words of Jesus that warn, caution, and admonish his followers as he prepares them for what lies ahead for him and for them. James and John thought that being numbered among Jesus’ closest associates would secure their future – would earn them respect and admiration – would lead to positions of power and authority. Jesus injects their dreams with a dose of reality. Jesus’ oblique reference to the “baptism” with which he and his authentic followers will experience informs James and John of what they can expect. That “baptism” will not be the popular acclamation that they were looking for. It was not long before the disciples learned what that “baptism” was.
All those called to the ministry of the gospel will need to learn how they will share in the “baptism” with which Jesus was baptized. It cannot be avoided. For some, this means living with discrimination and persecution. For others, proclaiming the Good News may lead to a loss of some personal relationships. For still others, it will mean embracing a simple lifestyle and placing one’s talents at the service of those in need. The “baptism” that the authentic disciple will experience takes different forms.
The request made by James and John gave Jesus the opportunity to speak about a most significant characteristic of discipleship: service. Authentic disciples are those who place themselves at the service of the gospel. At the center of their lives is the Good News that they have been called to announce to all people. Nothing else is to take precedence — least of all the desire for acclamation, authority, or power. Ministers of the gospel ought to hear Jesus’ words as a warning against clericalism and careerism that are the bane of the Church’s ordained ministry today.
Fortunately, there are many examples among the ordained whose ministry is about service. Still, there are some who, like James and John, are looking for position and power. When Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, the two brothers, like the other disciples, abandoned Jesus to his fate. Their dreams of sitting on Jesus’ right and left seemingly had come to nothing. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they did finally learn to be servants of the gospel and the People of God. That is the task that is incumbent on all who wish to be Jesus’ disciples, that is, learning how to serve rather than being served.
Rev. Leslie J. Hoppe, OFM
Professor Emeritus of Old Testament Studies