29th Sunday O T Year B – 15
Is.53:10-11; Heb.4:14-16; Mk.10: 35-45
A priest went into a Washington, D. C. barber shop for a haircut. When the barber finished, the priest asked him what the charge was and the barber responded, “No charge, Father, you are serving the Lord and I consider my service rendered to you as a service to the Lord.”
The next morning when the barber arrived at his shop he found at his front door a stack of usable Christmas cards and a note of thanks from the priest. A few days later, a police officer went to the same barber for a haircut. When he went to pay, the barber said, “No charge, officer.
I consider it a service to our community because you serve our community.” The next morning when the barber arrived at his shop there were a dozen donuts at the front door and a note of thanks from the policeman. A few days after this an influential senator came in for a haircut.
“No charge, Senator, I consider it a service to my country.” The next morning when the barber arrived at his shop there were two congressmen waiting for their chance for the barber’s free service, carrying a note of thanks from the Senator!
Today’s readings describe leadership as the sacrificial service done to others and offer Jesus as the best example. They also explain the servant leadership of Jesus, pinpointing service and sacrifice as the criteria of greatness in Christ’s kingdom.
The first reading is a messianic prophecy taken from the Fourth Servant Song in the second part of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It tells how the promised Messiah would save mankind by sacrificing himself as the atonement for our sins.
The second reading, from the letter to the Hebrews, tells us that, as a God-man and mediator-High Priest, Jesus offered a fitting sacrifice to God his Father by offering himself as ransom to liberate us from the slavery of sin.
Today’s gospel explains how Jesus’ mission of saving mankind by becoming the “Suffering Servant”. A suffering servant challenging his followers to become great by serving others: “Whoever wishes to be great must be a servant.”
The gospel teaches us that true happiness comes from surrendering ourselves completely in humble service to God through Christ. And all we need is a servant’s heart, mind, eyes and touch. Our Gospel reading for today is another classic text on the question of ambition. For the third time, (Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:32), Jesus predicts his own death.
In spite of Jesus’ two previous predictions, James and John still thought of him as a revolutionary freedom-fighter and shared the Jewish belief that the Messiah would be a political king, sitting on David’s throne and ruling over a re-united Israel.
They thought that they were sure that the purpose of Jesus’ final trip to Jerusalem was to overthrow the Roman rulers. Hence, they wanted an assurance from Jesus that he would make them his first- and second-in- command in his messianic kingdom. James and John picked a bad moment.
St John Chrysostom said, “Their timing was precisely wrong for this was not the right time for crowns or prizes. It was the time for struggles, contests, toils, sweat, wrestling rings and battles.” Jesus is going deliberately towards suffering and death.
It is easy to imagine that procession: Jesus striding ahead, the disciples following in a daze, and the crowd bewildered. Normal prudence would urge us to avoid suffering and death – to go in the other direction. But this scene is telling us something about the wisdom of the cross.
The request of James and John revealed their lack of understanding of true leadership. They were looking for positions of power and prestige. They thought that leadership came from where you sat rather than how you served.
Jesus gave them a sharp rebuke when he said, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” Without fully understanding what Jesus meant, James and John quickly affirmed that they could share in their master’s cup and baptism.
They had no understanding of the personal cost that lay behind these two images. To drink the cup is to accept the reality of suffering and to do God’s will in the midst of it, as Jesus did in Gethsemane.
Those who follow the way of Jesus and seek to imitate his example of servant leadership must be willing even to suffer for others. Naturally, the request of James and John angered the other disciples. They were upset that James and John had tried to gain some advantage over them.
So Jesus called them all together to give them yet another lecture on real leadership in the kingdom of God. Jesus told his disciples plainly what his mission was, how he was going to accomplish it and what should be the criteria of greatness among his disciples.
He summarized his mission in one sentence, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Here, he challenged his apostles to share not only his power, but his service, by sacrificing themselves for others as he had done.
According to Jesus, greatness consists not in what we have, nor in what we can get from others but in what we give to others. The CEO in Jesus’ kingdom is the one who serves the needs of all the others. Very often, people in authority act as if others exist only to serve them.
We forget the fact that authority is different from power. Power is something a person has and forces on people. Authority is something a person gains – it’s given to one by the people one leads. One can gain authority from those one leads only through service and sacrifice.
When people see that a person has their best interests at heart and is willing to sacrifice and serve them, they will be willing to follow. That’s real leadership and authority. Jesus saw authority as an opportunity to serve others rather than to promote his own honor and glory.
He connected authority with selfless service. He considered authority without sacrificial love as merely self-serving. We are challenged to give our lives in loving service to others. To become an authentic disciple of Jesus means to put ourselves in the humble, demanding role of servant to others, to intentionally seek the happiness and fulfillment of those we love regardless of the cost to ourselves.
Over one billion Catholics all over the world observe today as World Mission Sunday. This annual observance was instituted 89 years ago in 1926 by a Papal decree issued by Pope Pius XI. Every year since then, the universal Church has dedicated the month of October to reflection on and prayer for the missions.
On World Mission Sunday, Catholics gather to celebrate the Eucharist and to contribute to a collection for the work of evangelization around the world. This annual celebration gives us a chance to reflect on the importance of mission work for the life of the Church.
It reminds us that we are one with the Church around the world and that we are all committed to carrying on the mission of Christ, however different our situations may be.
Let me end with the words of Rabindranath Tagore an Indian Poet. “I discovered that Service is Joy.” It may sound unbelievable, but it is true that Asia’s first Nobel Prize winner in Literature (1913), Rabindranath Tagore, was behind the three great national anthems of three nations.
The nations are Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka. He was also the first non-westerner to win the Nobel Prize in literature. He did so in 1913. He wrote this short poem:
I slept and dreamt that life was Joy;
Then I awoke and realized that life was Service.
And then I went to work – and, lo and behold, I discovered that Service is Joy. Amen.