29th Sunday of the Ordinary Time (Cycle B) Readings: Is53:2-3, 10-11; Heb 4:14-16; Mk 10:35-45
I remember one of my companions in Rome, an African priest, when asked about his ambition he would say that he wants to become a bishop. Every time some people jokingly tell me that I would be a bishop someday, I will always answer, “Simbako!” or “By heavens, that should not happen!” Some people think that becoming a bishop is a kind of promotion. And for them promotion means more power, more authority, more influence, more money, etc. One bishop told me, “Don’t desire for it. There is no happiness up there.”
Our gospel this Sunday tells us about the ambition of the brothers James and John. They asked the Lord that they want to sit next to Him when He reigns. This tells us that the apostles did not fully comprehend the teachings of Jesus about his being the Messiah even though He already told them for the third time that He is going to die in Jerusalem. The apostles were still convinced that he was going up to Jerusalem to fulfill the hopes of the people about the beginning of the messianic times, to establish a kingdom of this world with great political power.
The brothers James and John were ambitious. When the victory was won and the triumph was complete, they aimed at being Jesus’ chief ministers of state. Maybe their ambition was kindled because more than once Jesus had made them part of his inner circle, the chosen three. Maybe they were a little better off than the others. Their father was well enough off to employ hired servants, and it may be that they rather snobbishly thought that their social superiority entitled them to the first place. In any event they show themselves as men in whose hearts there was ambition for the first place in an earthly kingdom. They wanted to be on the top of the hierarchy with all the authority.
In the time of Jesus there were many types of authority. There are the religious leaders, rabbis, scribes, priests in the temple; then there are political authorities. How do they all behave? They issue orders, demand privileges, and want to be greeted ceremoniously; people have to kneel in front of them, kiss their hand, and call them by their honorific titles.
The Lord said that this should not happen among his disciples. Rather, they must take the example from the slave, yes from the one who is lowest in the social scale. The servant is always alert, day and night, to the orders of the master. The heads of the Christian communities must be like the slaves and consider themselves the last and the servants of all.
The disciples of the rabbis followed their masters, alert to their teachings, and immediately obeyed all their orders. The disciples used to walk while their masters rode a donkey; they kept at a distance and were ready to render any kind of service to him, even the most humble like cleaning his house or washing his feet. They were ready to humble themselves so that one day they could be rabbis in their turn, for this title would bring them privileges and high social standing.
Jesus refuses this kind of logic; He does not want anybody to serve him; He stands among his disciples as the one who serves and reminds them that He came not to be served but to serve. He does not demand that his disciples wash His feet, He kneels down to wash theirs. To clinch his words Jesus pointed to his own example. With such powers as he had, he could have arranged life entirely to suit himself, but he had spent himself and all his powers in the service of others. He had come, he said, to give his life a ransom for many. Jesus is the “faithful Servant” that Isaiah mentioned in the First Reading.