Reflection on the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 53:10-11 Hebrews 4: 14-16 Mark 10-35-45
For the last couple of months of Sunday readings, we have heard Jesus teaching his disciples about his true calling and theirs. What he teaches is for us, too.
In today’s readings we hear first through Isaiah that the one who is to come as savior and messiah is to be our intermediary with God.
Next, in the letter to the Christian Jews, we hear that the messiah, Jesus the Christ, is a new kind of intermediary for the people, able to speak to God from the depths of daily human experience, from the experience of pouring his life out in service in our midst.
This is the image Jesus shares with his ambitious disciples as he clarifies for them what it will mean for them to take up his vocation, to drink the cup he is drinking and to be baptized as he is being baptized.
James and John are only the latest of the disciples to assume that Jesus’ vocation is leadership in the image of the Jewish priesthood: He will speak for the people with God and will command the people in God’s name. The two disciples are eager to have positions of prestige in Jesus’ coming regime. In today’s Gospel account Jesus seems to encourage the disciples’ ambition, asking if they are ready to drink from his cup and be baptized with him. Assuming he means a cup of authority and a baptism in glory, they reply enthusiastically yes.
Surprise. The glorious role Jesus was already playing in his earthly lifetime, the vocation into which he invites all his disciples — even each of us — is the part of the servant priest. He is an intermediary, going back and forth from the throne of God to serve, bringing God’s own mercy in his service, advocating for God’s own mercy in his prayer.
Jesus is not one set apart, served by others as he goes about his priestly work. No, he is one who can speak to God about our needs from his own experience; he goes before God as one who shares intimately in our personal and communal struggles. By drinking the cup of God’s will, by serving wholeheartedly in his own life and death, Jesus reaches in prayer for God’s mercy for those he serves and carries the mercy of God to each of us in his continuing service.
Like Jesus the Christ, James and John and all of us are called to be servant priests, interceding and serving. Service is to shape our prayer and give it an urgency learned amid those whose circumstance we share. Prayer is to shape our service, transforming our hearts and allowing us to bring God’s saving mercy to those with whom we live and work.