29th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 17 October 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 53:10-11; Responsorial: Psalm 33; II: Hebrews 4:14-16; Gospel: Mark10: 35-45
Picture a large room with many people of all ages, economic and educational status, and all with common ambitions and desires. Then, offered to all, would be two different sign-up sheets with two diverse lifelong opportunities. One would be to sit adjacent to the king, queen, president, the leader. It would be an opportunity to reign with that sovereign. The other sign-up would be to be… a servant, of the sovereign and everyone else. Which sign-up sheet would likely fill up first?
Our readings from Scripture this Sunday essentially share that story, that choice. The Old Testament reading shares Isaiah, the prophet’s insight into the coming Messiah who would be, a suffering servant. The Epistle reading from Hebrews speaks of our Great High Priest, Jesus, who would encounter every type of test and temptation that humanity would ever face. Yet, without sin.
But it is in the Gospel we come to the story of two early disciples and men to be apostles, James and his brother, John. It is these two brothers who enflesh the opportunities shared in our survey of whether to reign or to serve. As we examine these tow we find two younger, ambitious men. They had been working with their father, Zebedee, as fishermen. It is at that task Jesus calls them to, “Come, follow me”. They had no idea to what or where this call would bring them. But they sensed the call was to be heeded. We know from the Gospels that these two were rather intense, passionate about their faith and their Rabbi, their Lord. When sent out to proclaim the coming kingdom they encountered scoffers and were rebuffed. Their question for Christ, upon returning to His Presence was to ask if they could, should, call down fire from heaven to deal with these people deemed unworthy. The “Sons of Thunder” as they were known, were gently corrected by Jesus. So they learned and continued to follow Him.
It was as Christ was preparing His followers for the upcoming passion they were to sense that all this was sensed that it was all part of the ultimate conquest and victorious reign of Jesus. That they were restricted in their vision by their understanding that the coming Messiah was to be a political figure never occurred to them. So, perhaps, it was only natural that we would come to read of their encounter with Christ shared in the Gospel today. They wanted to sit, one on Christ’s right hand, and one on the left. They wanted places of vital power and pride to share with Christ.
And, Jesus listened. That they trusted Him who had called them and that they sought to be close to their Lord pleased Christ as it does when we seek Him with our petitions. He listened and carefully answered them. They would share His Cup, they would share His baptism. But Jesus was very vague about the seating request. He would only say it was for those for who it was prepared. So, they had to follow and see what would happen. They had to follow Christ and trust.
The other ten apostles were indignant with jealousy and anger. The struggle of church politics has been present from the beginning. The struggle to be or become what WE THINK we should be or where we should be is a strong, divisive torment. The temptations to judge where others belong and deserve often contend with the same energy for…self. Christ shared His healing antidote for the poisons of ego and pride infecting His followers. He shared His example and the call to follow in His steps. He called them to be, as He was, a servant.
Jesus called them, He calls us each to the life of being a servant for God, His Kingdom, His Creation. It is vital to remember that to be a faithful servants we must develop our servant senses. We must be skilled watchers and listeners. One of the great blessings of being a deacon [Diakonia, servant] of the Mass is to ever learn to watch. It is essential to be alert to the liturgy being shared. One must watch that all the pieces are in place and especially to watch the priest or bishop. The response of the servant is simple, subtle, and alert to serve the alter Christus presiding in that liturgy. As it is in a home or palace the servants are ever alert, watching for the needs of all.
And each servant must be alert to listen. A servant who is shouted at or loudly directed senses, quickly, that they had probably missed something. When God must shout at us it is perhaps because we were not watching and listening as we should. As His servants, we need to watch face, the eyes, and listen for His quiet but powerful whispers. We are called by God to follow and serve Him today, as were James and John.
It is a beautiful testimony of love and faith the John and James both continued to grow as they followed Jesus. Even though they did not get the answers to their prayers, as they hoped for they still followed their Lord. Neither of the brothers would have known or expected how God would lead. James would be the first apostle to be martyred being beheaded. John, who would embody the listening servant in the Upper Room, would grow on to care for Mary, our Blessed Mother and to face exile and receive the great Revelation of the return of His Savior and Lord.
Only their Master, Jesus, knew what the journey of these two brothers and servants would bring. And only our Master, Jesus, knows to what and where we will be called by Him. As it was for James and John as they left their boats so may it be for us. May our servant-steps grow ever closer to Christ as we watch and listen in faith-filled love.