29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle B

1st Reading — Isaiah 53: 10-11

This is part of the fourth Suffering Servant Song that is found in Isaiah. One can read all of these Servant Songs at Isaiah 42: 1-7; 49:1-7; 50:4-9; 52:12-53:12.  They were written during the time of exile when the nation of Israel was itself the ‘suffering servant’. Its intention was to offer a word of hope and consolation.  The early Christian community believed that Jesus was the Suffering Servant; it isn’t certain if Jesus actually saw himself that way, but he could certainly identify with it.   How do you identify with this passage?  Did you see a light in the tunnel when you have had a moment of suffering?

The word for many according to Jewish scholars referred to gentiles.  In later Judaism, the many was understood to mean “all” – everyone, all the nations, all people.  The Suffering Servant would save all people.  What good news!  (Share the Word, 52, and Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, Year B, 686)

From Preaching Resources, Oct. 2006:

God can make sense of chaos. God can bring good out of bad. Hope is only hope when things are hopeless. The Christian view of history is not that goodness overcomes badness, but that goodness survives badness. We learn that from Jesus, God’s own son. God has high hopes for us and for his world. God is tickled to have us in God’s life. The God we find in Jesus promises us that all will be well in the end.

If Jesus came with the sole mission of taking away all pain in this life, then he failed miserably.  But perhaps God inspired the Suffering Servant songs precisely to help us understand the sufferings of Jesus and so learn how to cope with our own sufferings – growing in compassion regarding the sufferings of others.  (Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.)

2nd Reading — Hebrews 4: 14-16

Here the Suffering Servant is the High Priest. How does this reading give you confidence?

As different as Jesus is from us, he also knows and understands our weaknesses.  Like us, he too was tempted, and not only once at the start of his ministry, but throughout his life, just as we are.  The difference, of course, is that though tempted “in every way,” he never sinned.  The consequences of all this are no less than astounding:  we can “confidently” approach “the throne of grace,” that is, the throne of God, because Christ, our brother in the flesh and our Lord in eternity, has thrown wide the gates of access to God’s merciful love, (Workbook for Lectors…255).

How do we hold fast to our confession?

The Gospel — Mark 10: 35-45

From your experience, what is so great about being servant?   Where is the good in this?

After James and John argued their point that they should have “special seats” in heaven (Doesn’t it remind you of kids who want to sit in the front seat?), Jesus summons all of his disciples saying, “You know….there are rulers in the world that want power and prestige, and you aren’t them.”   In other words, Jesus is gently and lovingly telling them to get over themselves!  They must be willing to really drink from the cup.

John Pilch says that in this culture, the head of the family would fill the cups of all at the table. Each one is expected to accept and drink what the head of the family has given.  In a type of analogy, God is like this parent and so this cup came to represent the ‘lot’ or reality of our life.  Jesus accepts the reality and his call from God to serve others by showing them God’s kingdom, God’s power and love.  Jesus’ ‘honor’ will be attained in this way, even when evil tries to stop him. What is your cup?  How does this add insight into the ‘sharing of the cup’ at Eucharist?  (“Historical Cultural Context” http://liturgy.slu.edu. )

Henri Nouwen opened up this idea even further in his book, Can You Drink the Cup?.  He asks, “Can you drink the cup?  Can you taste all the sorrows and joys?  Can you live your life to the full whatever it will bring?”  Drinking the cup of life involves holding, lifting and drinking.  It is the full celebration of being human.  We must hold our cup and fully claim who we are and what we are called to live.  When each of us can hold firm our own cup, with its many sorrows and joys, claiming it as our unique life, then too, can we lift it up for others to see and encourage them to lift up theirs lives as well.  Drinking the cup of life says, “This is my life, “ and “I want this to be my life.”

Thoughts from M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbk.,Yr. B, 689:

The word ‘ransom’ in this setting in Hebrew means an offering for sin, an atonement offering.  Jesus has paid the universal debt:  he has given his life for many to redeem the world.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke out against the Nazis’ unjust and inhuman treatment of Jews in Germany before and during WWII.  He was killed by order of Hitler, but his life and words still inspire many. In his reflections on Jesus’ call to service, he lists certain ministries or services that can encourage a holy and wholesome communal life:

  • The service of holding one’s tongue so as to prevent undue criticism or domination while allowing the other to grow freely, in God’s image not my own.
  • The service of humility that places the honor, opinion and well-being of another before my own.
  • The service of listening that does not listen with only half an ear presuming to know already what the other has to say.
  • The service of active helpfulness that remembers that nobody is too good for the lowliest service.
  • The service of proclaiming by speaking God’s words of compassion and truth even in difficult circumstances.

Only after all these services are in place and available to all can the service of authority be truly exercised.  True authority is humble, willing to listen. It is actively helping to ease the burdens of others, while speaking words that give life. (Preaching Resources, October 2000)

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