Reflections on the Readings
Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 21, 2012 - Year B
S - W - A - R - M
But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?"
We've all heard the saying, "It's not what you know but it's who you know." Nepotism makes eyes roll. Preferential treatment and favoritism regardless of merit creates discord and talk at the water fountain. Sometimes it seems hard work and discipline and education and loyalty aren't important. But they are. These are the things that impress and have their own rewards. However, the sons of Zebedee ask for a favor. They are seeking preferential treatment. James and John are looking out for themselves. Their attitude brought division within the community of Jesus. Jesus used this occasion as a timely teaching moment for them. We will benefit as well from his words.
Several years ago Debbie and I worked in a fast food restaurant. It's hard and demanding work. I flipped hamburgers, dropped the fries into the hot oil, and made shakes. Anyone who has ever worked in the food industry knows that it is some of the hardest work you will ever do. Our manager watched the operation and directed the staff. Our customers were guests and every car turning into our lot initiated a command from our boss. "Let's SWARM!" he said. With that order I placed more burgers on the grill and dropped more fries. The cashiers took their places and the fun began.
Now I know you've read this far because you want to know what S - W - A - R - M means. In our fast food environment it meant: Service With A Rapid Motion. And we were fast. Our goal was to complete the customer's order correctly and in a timely manner. By the time two o'clock rolled around we were very tired puppies.
But I want to change up the words here and maybe slow down the pace a bit. I want to reuse those letters to say: Servants With A Real Mission. Jesus answers James and John by explaining his mission and what is all of his disciples place in it.
Jesus is a Servant. He comes to seek and to save. The very reason for the Incarnation was to save his people from their sins. It's not about privilege and rank and honor and prestige. Jesus came to give his life as a ransom for all. A ransom is a 'redemption price' paid for the release of a prisoner or someone taken captive and made a slave. The price for our ransom was the life of Christ. His death on the cross was a saving death. In giving his life as an offering for sin he opens for you and me the door of heaven.
In this Year of Faith just begun the Church invites us to see again the riches of our life in Christ. The purpose of this Year of Faith is so we will increase our understanding of the Faith, and grow in our ardor to proclaim the Faith, and to also more deeply celebrate the Faith. This Sunday's readings emphasize the great mission of Christ to rescue us from the tyranny of sin and to restore us to the Friendship of God.
Jesus describes his destiny as a cup he will drink and as a baptism he accepts. Both of these images show us that his cross is a cup of suffering and an immersion into the great quest for our souls. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man. The Incarnation of Christ and his life in Nazareth and beyond demonstrate God's infinite Love in pursuit of souls. Jesus truly came as a Servant With A Real Mission.
It is this Mission Jesus asks his disciples to see and to embrace. He shines a light on the meaning of greatness. Greatness by divine definition is to serve Jesus in each other and especially in those who are poor. He who is great is the servant of all. The mission of Christ is to all - the rich and poor, the high and low, the great and small, the least, the lost and the lonely.
In his first Catecheses on the Faith, the Holy Father said, "Where there is domination, possession, and exploitation,... man is impoverished, degraded and disfigured." These words of our dear Pope were confirmed October 9, 2012 when a Taliban gunman shot 14 year old Malala Yousufzai in the head as she sat in a school bus. What was her crime? She's a girl and wants to go to school and get an education. It just leaves one wondering what this world is coming to. Too often does the worldly standard of superiority and authoritative demagoguery and vindictiveness prevail. May God truly help us to embrace this Year of Faith and to count all things inferior to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ and him crucified.
So completely did Jesus live and die for others that the passage of Hebrews today says he is still able to sympathize with our weaknesses and our needs. He is patient with us so we should be patient with each other. He was tested in every way we are tested, yet remained sinless. So he truly does know our frame, the stuff we are made of, and invites us to come as often as we need to the throne of grace to receive mercy and the timely help of his grace. That throne and that grace and mercy are profoundly experienced in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Our mission, if we will accept it, is a deeply intimate relationship with him who made of himself no reputation. Why is it necessary to know Jesus in such a profoundly deep friendship? As the latin phrase so aptly puts its, "We cannot give what we do not have." How can we have this friendship with our Lord? Prayer. We will know Christ better as we pray often and earnestly. The world around us needs the friendship of Christ. Today may we pledge ourselves to know the love of Christ and for the sake of that love become Servants With A Real Mission. Amen.
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to his uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org His website is: www.dennishankins.com