(Ordinary Time – Cycle B)
It is not difficult to find the common thread of this Sunday’s biblical readings. All of the lectionary is centered on the figure of Christ, suffering servant of the Lord (first reading), Priest that knows how to have pity on our weaknesses (second reading), servant of everyone even to the point of “giving his life as a ransom for many” (gospel). All of the mystery of Christian salvation is the fruit of a merciful and compassionate love of Jesus, that “offers his life in atonement” (Is 53,10), as “priest who has been tempted in every way that we are, though he is without sin” (Heb 4,15) and that “did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life” (Mk 10,45). Also the disciple is called, in the imitation of the Master, to take up a journey of generosity and of love, renouncing any type of domination and of exploitation of others.
The first reading (Is 53,2a.3a.10-11) is the last of the songs of the Servant of the Lord in the book of Isaiah. The text is complex in its structure, in its language and in the historical identification of the person. In the beginning, God himself speaks of his “servant” as of someone that has arrived at the point of physical disfiguration, caused by suffering, that “does not have human appearance” (Is 52,14). Unexpectedly, announced quickly afterwards that this same servant will be glorified and recognized by nations and kings that will be filled with astonishment before such a fact (Is 52,15). Only in the central part of the song (Is 53,1-10) are his sufferings related: is has been despised and rejected by men and women (vv. 2-3); has been submitted to an innocuous judgment that he accepts without violence as a sheep that is taken to the slaughter, as a lamb that does not open his mouth before the sheepshearer (v. 7). The novelty of this text is the affirmation that the cause of the servant’s humiliation and condemnation are not his own sins, but the sins of those that are judging him (v. 4.5.9). And even more paradoxically is the fact that his death will bring not only to himself rehabilitation, that has been unjustly “cutoff from the land of the living” (v. 8), but also to those that have condemned him (vv. 10-12). This does not only form part of the divine plan (v. 10), but also he himself voluntarily has submitted himself silently (v. 7), has offered his life as atonement (v. 10-11), and has been weighed down with the fault of many and has interceded for sinners (v. 12).
The servant incarnates the redemptive value of suffering. It is most likely, that this is in harmony with the traditional Hebrew interpretation, that the tribulations of the Servant make reference to that poorest and most innocent part of Israel that suffered the prepotency of the powerful of this world during the exile and with her fidelity collaborated mysteriously in the plans of God for the world. It is an interpretation that has great value, thus it reminds us of the value that the poor people’s suffering can have for the redemption of all and helps us to amplify the horizon of the passion of Christ for all of the Church, his total body. Certainly, this text influenced strongly the redaction of the passion accounts of the Lord in the New Testament. For the evangelists the oracle of Isaiah is only seen clearly with the approach of the passion and death of Jesus for the redemption of all. Both the individual interpretation as well as the collective one point out the same mystery of redeeming value, the value of the suffering of the just one and of sacrificial love within the plans of God. The text is, without doubt, a culmination moment of Old Testament revelation: the life, the death, and the return to life of the Servant have come to be the means for all sin. Abandoned in the hands of God and renouncing to return evil to those that mistreated him, the Servant obtains that which all of the ritual sacrifices of Israel could not have obtained. All that which the prophet has said about the Servant we confess that has happened only fully in Christ, our Savior, suffering Servant that with his life, death and resurrection, has freed us from our sins.
The second reading (Heb 4,14-16) presents us Jesus as true High Priest under a twofold perspective. On the one hand, he is the Son of God, priest par excellence, “great”, that has penetrated definitively in the world of God, “the heavens,” from where the invitation to persevere in the profession of faith is derived (Heb 4,14). On the other hand, the full human condition of this high priest is insisted upon, who “has been tempted in every way that we are, though he is without sin,” from which comes the exhortation to draw near with great trust to God to obtain mercy and strength in the moment of temptation (Heb 4,15).
The gospel (Mark 10,35-45) makes up the ultimate dialogue between Jesus and his disciples during the journey to Jerusalem and the ultimate catechesis of the Master before his entrance in the holy city. The text presents a clear contrast between a Messianic thought of vindication by power, desired by James and John, and the other based on immolation and giving, proposed by Jesus. The counter position is symbolized by the “throne” (to sit with Jesus in glory) and the “chalice” (to die with Jesus). The irony of the account also is meaningful. While the Master has spoken continual of the total gift of life and of the generous handing over of himself for the plan of God (Mk 8,31-32; 9,30-31; 10,32-34), the two disciples desire to dominate and begin to plan before hand the way that will carry them to power. But it is not only these two. Also, the rest of the group secretly desire the same, thus upon finding out that they asked to sit at the right and the left of Jesus in glory, “the other ten began to feel indignant with James and John” (v. 41). With the desire of power, of domination and of superiority, take up root in the heart of the disciples, Jesus’ group divides and spoils. He has chosen them so that “they may be with him” (Mk 3,14) and they may follow him, weighed with his cross (Mk 8,34), on a journey of surrender and of renunciation in favor of others. Nevertheless, they go on being enslaved to worldly schemes of power, that carry them to confront men and women, creating lords and servants, oppressors and oppressed, dominators and dominated.
The response of Jesus is twofold. First he directs himself to James and John, bringing to light their incomprehension and ignorance of the mystery of Christian discipleship: “You do not know what you are asking” (v. 38). This does not treat of a simple ethical problem, that would be revealing evil in their hearts. It is more a problem of blindness. “You do not know,” they have not understood anything of the Gospel. To be a disciple is to offer one’s life and to be disposed to give it up, as Jesus. It is to renounce all personal privilege and every type of power, making it so that ones life is surrendered out of love and becomes service and life for others. This is the “chalice” of discipleship. For this reason, Jesus interrogates them saying: “Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptized with the baptism with which I must be baptized?” Probably, the words of Jesus have been re-elaborated by the community after Easter, but the essential is clear: to be a disciple is to share “the chalice,” that is to say, the same vocation as the Son of man, that gave up his life in obedience to the Father in a gesture of supreme love in favor of all men and women that that realizes his mission in the total gift of himself. The conceding of “the throne,” that is to say, the future heredity of the kingdom of God, belongs only to the Father (v. 40). Jesus himself, offering his very life, abandons himself with infinite trust in the Father; in the same way, hands over the fate of his own to the loving hands of the Father. Now the vocation of the disciple clearly appears: to drink of the chalice (die in the present with Christ) and to be seated on the throne (to receive gratuitously a part in the future of the kingdom from God).
At the end, Jesus directs himself to all of the group (vv. 41-45) and gives them the ultimate catechesis during the journey to Jerusalem, some words that resume all of the spirituality of Christian discipleship. While in the structures of the world, a stronger law is imposed, and among the “rulers” (arjóntes) and the “servants” (megalói) of this world, to command means to dominate and take advantage of others, “this is not to happen among you” (v. 43). Jesus’ disciples (the whole Church) offers an alternative model of human relationships. Power becomes service, the desire of domination is transformed into gratitude and gesture of disinterested love for others: “Anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all” (v. 44).