What we want, and what God wants

BY SR VERNA HOLYHEAD SGS

LECTIO DIVINA:  Holy Reading

Sunday, October 21st, 2012 is the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.

Lectio:  Read the Gospel from Mark 10:35-45.

Meditatio:  

No one in Mark’s Gospel approaches Jesus as arrogantly as James and John in today’s reading. But perhaps our criticism of these two disciples who, with Peter, comprise the most intimate core of the Twelve, needs to be modified if we are honest with ourselves. How often do we, too, approach Jesus with self-centred demands about our own plans rather than with deep faith in his plans for us?

It is as though James and John have not heard one word of what Jesus has told them about the suffering and death that await him Jerusalem. All that they are concerned about is what Jesus can make happen for them when he comes into “his glory”. 

What they want, they tell him, are the two best places next to him, on his right and on his left. Perhaps it is Jesus ‘deep sorrow at the obtuseness of the brothers’ request that tempers his response to them. He answers with images of “cup’ and “baptism”. 

In the Old Testament, the cup was a rich and ambivalent symbol. It could refer not only to overflowing joy and communion with God (Pa 23:5) and God’s salvation (Ps 116:13), but also to the draining of the painful cup of punishment. In his passion Jesus will gulp down the sins of the world, drain the cup of suffering and wrath so that it may be refilled with the joy of salvation. Can the brothers drink this same cup? The baptism of which Jesus speaks is his total submersion in the flood of suffering and death. 

Can James and John go with him into these depths of his passion? Again, before we pass judgement on them, we need to ask ourselves if we accept the consequences of our sacramental baptism — a baptism into Christ’s death so that we may rise with him in a newness of life. In the mention of the cup, do Christian communities hear and obey that echo of the Eucharist that also initiates us into participation into the self-giving of Jesus and a sharing in his thirst for justice? 

The paradox of Jesus’ Good News must be constantly repeated: that there can be no glory without a sharing in the suffering.

The failure of the disciples to understand him, his mission, or his relationship to the Father, was an aspect of Jesus’ suffering. Their desertion on the eve of the passion would add to the bitterness of the cup he would drink, would be another flood of pain sweeping over him. Power and triumphalism, the desire for first place in the kingdom, have nothing to do with Christian leadership, yet into the hands of these frail and failing human beings Jesus entrust the Christian community that would, in the power of his love and forgiveness, struggle through to resurrection with him. This is both our challenge and our consolation. 

The other ten disciples, who were so glum and dumb when confronted by Jesus’ earlier prediction of his passion, regain their voices to argue and bicker amongst themselves, angry over James and John’s approach to Jesus. 

We might suspect that this reaction is not so much because of the inappropriateness of the brothers’ approach, but more because these two had beaten the other ten to it! Knowing that earthly ambition (transferred to heaven!) and competitiveness were what the disciples had in their sights, Jesus calls them together to try to teach them. 

Yet again, what is to be the foundation, of their identity: the service of others that reflects the self- sacrificing service of Jesus. Kingdom greatness is the gift for those who make no claim to power and status. The demand of James and John: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you,” needs to be transformed for and by all disciples into: “Teacher, we want to do for you and for many whatever you ask of us.” 

(Lectio Divina is Holy Reading, that is, reading of the Sacred Scriptures.  It is a way of life, not a method of prayer.  It is about reading (and listening), reflecting, praying in tune with the Holy Spirit within me, resting in God, responding in the way I live, and continually pondering on the Scriptures).  

— Sr Verna Holyhead sgs is author of Sowing the Seed 

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