The Suffering Servant of God
Father Hanly’s excellent homily for 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, is on Jesus, the Suffering Servant of God. In a departure from his usual style, Father Hanly wrote this homily before delivering it at Mass.
Readings for Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
- First Reading: Isaiah 53:10-11
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22
- Second Reading: Hebrews 4:14-16
- Gospel: Mark 10:35-45 or 10:42-45
As we draw near to the end of the present Liturgical Year, the readings of today take on a new urgency and significance. Today’s first reading from the Book of Isaiah the Prophet begins with the startling sentence: “The Lord was pleased to crush him with suffering.” Isaiah is speaking about the Suffering Servant of God, who gives his life to save his people. And then in today’s Gospel we see Jesus and his disciples on the last leg of their long journey from the north of Palestine to the gates of the city of Jerusalem. It is there that Jesus is destined to suffer and to die.
By way of introduction and, in order to appreciate more fully the depth of meaning of today’s Gospel, I shall begin Mark’s account with the two verses that precede today’s reading for they throw much light on what follows. The Gospel according to Mark, beginning with chapter 10 verse 32.
Mark 10:32 (Jesus and his disciples) were on the road, going up to Jerusalem; Jesus was walking on ahead of them; they were in a daze, and those who followed were full of apprehension. Once more Jesus took the Twelve aside and began to tell them privately what was going to happen to him. He said: “Now we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man is about to be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the pagans, who will mock him and spit on him and scourge him and put him to death; and after three days he will rise again.”
And now you can begin to understand the mood that Jesus must have been in at this time. He was trying to tell the disciples that their journey to Jerusalem was not going to be a triumphal victory march over the Romans, but rather the death of their dreams, for the suffering servant of God the Father will suffer and die for our sins. Jesus was walking on ahead, because they were full of fear and confusion, reluctant to follow, struggling along like defeated men, who barely heard his final promise: “After 3 days I will rise again.”
And now Mark tells us, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached Jesus. The brothers were special favorites of his. But if he was looking for sympathy or some compassion from them in this dark hour, he was to be disappointed. “Master,” they said to him, “We want you to do us a favour.” And Jesus said to them: “What is it you want me to do for you?” They said: “Allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left when you come into your glory.”
Such arrogance! Such childishness! Jesus could hardly believe it: “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I must drink or be baptized with the baptism which I must be baptized? He was referring to his coming Passion and his death. How disappointed in them he must have been. For they, like all the others were thinking not of what they could do for their Lord, but what they could get out of it for themselves. They, too, were agog with thoughts of glory and power, prestige, honor, and praise. But he their Lord and Master was speaking of drinking the cup of bitterness, given to the prophets of old when their destiny is revealed to them by God, a destiny involving suffering and pain, pain and suffering until their final redemption in the arms of God himself.
And what of baptism? Jesus was not referring to the sweet happy event so common in our churches, of a baby bathed in holy water, becoming a child of God and an heir of heaven, in the midst of adoring relatives and friends, but rather something different, very different: the origin of the word baptism means “to be immersed or plunged deep into water.” The symbol is quite violent: to be plunged into the depths of the waters to die to our old lives in order to rise up into a new life with Jesus, our Lord. Jesus’ baptism began with water poured on the banks of the Jordan River at the hand of John the Baptist. But his baptism ended in the garden of Gethsemane when, bowed in prayer before his Father, Jesus accepted the cup of bitterness and was drowned in the blood of the cross.
“Can you do this?” Jesus asked.
“Yes, we can!” the brothers had assured Jesus. And he looked on them and smiled and softened, for he loved them so much he would die for them, and said to the two: “Yes you, too, will one day “drink the cup that I drink,” and be “baptized with the baptism with which I am to be baptized,” and he was speaking of his death, but to sit at my right or my left is not for me to give but for those for whom it has been prepared.”
Now when the other ten heard of this, they became indignant at James and John.
Why? Because they were jealous. They, too, wanted the first seats at the table in the banquet of the Lord. They too hungered for power and praise, for recognition and success. Squabbling over who is to be the first, the best…They were no better than the others. And how was he to build a kingdom on such as these? And so Jesus called them together and summoning them to himself spoke these words:
“My little children, you know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles, lord it over them. And their great ones make their authority felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whosoever wishes to be great 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 for all and for everyone.”
Ask yourselves, why would Jesus say these things and follow in such a path? Simply because it’s the way of his Father. There is an old saying: “Like Father, like Son.” And in this case it is true. One day Jesus said to one of his disciples who asked him to show us the Father, and he answered “He who sees me sees the Father.”
We, then, must learn from the Father through his son and understand his ways, for God is a giver, he is a lover and he is the one who cares for us. “Where is God?” people ask. “God is where you and I allow him to be” is the answer. “God is love” we say it all the time. And wherever there is love, you will find him. You will discover him among those who need him, who want him and who welcome him into their hearts.
Today is Mission Sunday. Mission means to be sent. Sometimes we think we are sent out to convert the world, as if we have the truth and the world doesn’t. Such thoughts are far from God. On the other hand, we can say we are sent into the world to learn how to love as Jesus loves, to heal, to care, to reach out to those brothers and sisters in need. In a word, it is we who must learn how to love, for the great mystery of God is not that we serve him, but that it is he who serves us, and his love is so great that he has given everything including himself into our hands.