29 Sunday B

Andrew Greeley: 

Background: 

The apostles simply didn't get. No matter how many times Jesus told them that the kingdom he was restoring was not the old military and nationalist kingdom that the people wanted, but a kingdom in which humans reflected God's forgiving love, they never got the point.  

What other kind of kingdom was there besides one like David and Solomon ran? OK, Jesus was David or Solomon or maybe even someone better.  

What kind of jobs would they have in the new nobility of this new kingdom? They had made a lot of sacrifices for Jesus, what were they going to have in return. In the immortal words of city politics, they asked, "Where's ours?" Jesus told them what it would be, but they still didn't understand. 

 Story: 

 Once upon a time, a widow in her early 70s began thinking about moving from the big family home to a smaller, more manageable residence. One day when youngest daughter was visiting and began playing the piano, the mom told her that when she did move, this daughter could have the piano.  

 Now when the other children heard this, they began to worry among themselves about how their mother would split up the family treasures. Several of them thought they should have been consulted about the piano. After all, they had children who would like to have a piano.  

 Eventually, the widow got wind of her children’s concerns and decided to f ace the issue head on. She called them together and told them, in a gentle way, that her things were hers to decide how she wanted them distributed. What she did with these things had nothing to do with her love for each of them and she was disappointed that they felt that was the case. She had promised the piano to their youngest sister because she was the one who had been most dedicated to practice and seemed to love music. She hoped they knew that she loved each of them and that they would not consider who got what of her things as the sing of her love.  

 After they left, the widow sadly wondered what more she had to do to help her children know of her love for them.
 

 Reflection 

It is a remarkable fact that in Mark, the first of the gospels, one of the consistent themes is that of the incomprehension of the disciples. Again and again they fail to understand what Jesus is talking about and they are also portrayed as being afraid to ask him. They are presented as somewhat self-seeking and dull and at times even Jesus becomes exasperated with them (8:14-21). In choosing to present them this way, perhaps Mark was trying to tell us something: take time to recognise yourselves in this portrait of the disciples. The good news is indeed good but it challenges the values that we take for granted and are very much part and parcel of the world we live in. So when we choose the way of the gospel we should not be surprised that it involves a steep learning curve and we may well turn out to be slow learners! 
 

Michel DeVerteuil

Textual comments
 

There are two distinct sections in this passage:
- verses 35 to 40: the encounter between Jesus and the sons of Zebedee; and
- verses 41 to 45: his teaching on service.

The dialogue wit the sons of Zebedee is very dramatic, with plenty of significant details. As usual with gospel stories, fee free to focus either on Jesus or on the people who come to him.

James and John are typical of young, enthusiastic followers of any cause – very ambitious, but also very committed and ready for everything. Note how they are confident: they can accept the challenges, even if they do not see clearly what they entail.

The portrayal of Jesus is very touching: his respect for the young men, the way he takes them seriously, the way he challenges them and reassures them simultaneously. His humility is remarkable as he disclaims the authority to give final rewards.

As in last week’s passage, Jesus is the model for civil as well as religious leaders, and the two brothers can be the church community or the nation.

Verse 45 is very deep and can be read by itself. Enter into the metaphor of the ransom, asking yourself how this ancient practice of buying back slaves is lived today when people give themselves to the work of human liberation, with the life of Jesus as the model. 

*************************************
Thomas O'Loughlin
Today we reflect on how Jesus came among us. He came as the one sent by the Father to bring us new life, yet he came among us as seeking to serve rather than to be served. We reflect also that for us, his followers, his way of life sets us a pattern for how we should live. In a world filled with the suffering caused by power struggles Jesus reminds us that our community here must display a different way of being human: 'Anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be servant of all.'

----------------------

Sean Goan

The story of the apostles James and John continues with the theme of discipleship in this section of Mark. To appreciate what unfolds here it is important to remember that in the two chapters before this Jesus has consistently challenged his disciples with the core values of the kingdom.

They are to become like children, like servants; they are to give up all attachments; they are to be willing to take up their cross and follow and all this in the context of three predictions of the passion. So it is with that backdrop that James and John coming looking for special status in Jesus' future glory. The extent of their complete incomprehension is baffling but Jesus shows great patience with them and points out that they will indeed share his future but the glory they seek is not his to give. It would be heartening to think that the other ten were annoyed with James and John for the folly of their question but it might be more realistic to believe their concern was that they might have been upstaged by the other two. So when Jesus gathers them around him it is to tell them once again that in the kingdom of God the exercise of power bears no resemblance to what takes place in the world around them. True greatness lies in service and their model for this is Jesus himself. 

Homily Notes
1. The values of the kingdom are exactly opposite to those of the world of power politics, social climbing, and vain display. We all know this, yet generations come and generations go by, and we still import titles of honour, displays of prestige, and even the jargon of imperial Rome, the cursus honorum, into the church. The pope may take the title 'servant of the servants', but a look at the pomp and circumstance surrounding the papal ceremonies suggests that the need for a power display outweighs theology. Bishops are to be servants, but 'for the people's sake' they wear the last remnants of imperial purple. Clergy are called to take on extra ministry over and above the ministry of the baptised, but in exchange they get a range of titles all suitably graded so that everyone from a newly ordained deacon to Vicar General knows exactly which rung each is on.

Reading this Gospel should make us all mightily embarrassed!

 2. When John in his gospel wanted to convey the same message lie did not have a little teaching scene like this one we read today; rather he had Jesus get up and wash the feet of his disciples with all the messiness and embarrassment that goes with such an act of service. Moreover, we know that foot washing was one of the ways that Christians in the early churches learned how they should see one another as brothers and sisters in Christ (e.g. 1 Tim 5:10). Indeed, it survived as a rite used regularly in some monasteries and by bishops on Holy Thursday. Now it has a formal place in the liturgy of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday — although it is still such a shocking message that it is always in danger of being simply skipped or turned into a token affair. 

3. Given that the gospel should make any cleric uncomfortable, and anything one says about the gospel is likely to be taken as hypocritical self-justification, a better commentary on the gospel is to actually perform the action Jesus carried out and wished us to carry out in imitation of him.

Therefore, introduce the actual practice of foot washing —many in any average congregation will never have seen it or will not remember it from Holy Thursday — and then wash the feet of a group of the community.

Meanwhile, have these words from John read as a commentary on the action taking place: When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, 'Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them' On 13:12-17). Then, while the action of foot washing continues, have the shorter form of today's gospel re-read. 

4. Apart from one action being worth several thousand words, by making a community more familiar with the action of foot washing one is enriching the repertoire of the community's liturgical experience and helping the community appreciate the action on Holy Thursday more fully.

Many people grumble that no matter how short a homily is, it is still too long — words have become cheap. An action like foot washing will make people sit up — no doubt you reading this think the idea daunting (so too did St Peter) —and hear today's gospel on its second reading in a way they did not when it was first read!

 Scriptural Reflection 

Lord, we remember with gratitude the spiritual journey we have made.
At first we were like the sons of Zebedee,
very anxious to become loyal and to do great things for you.
Truly we did not know what we were asking.
You did not reject us, but rather guided us gently,
- some of us through prayer and bible reading;
- others through a guide who was Jesus for us.
You made us understand that spiritual growth
is setting out on the path of Jesus,
drinking whatever cup of suffering you send us,
and entering deep waters as he did.
As the challenge came, we said “Yes”,
and you certainly took us at our word.
Today we find that we are not interested in success of any kind.
We know that sitting at your right hand or at your left in your glory
is not something that anyone can give us,
or that we can earn for ourselves,
and we leave that to you to allot to whoever you will.

Lord, we thank you for young people,
especially those of us who work with youth in schools,
church communities or families.
We thank you for their enthusiasm and their great desires.
Don’t let us become cynical
just because they do not know what they are asking.
Help us rather to be like Jesus and walk with them,
challenging them, but also reassuring them
that they can in fact make the sacrifices which their desires imply.

Lord, leaders are afraid to ask sacrifices of their people;
they like to promise great rewards in some future kingdom
even though these rewards are not theirs to give.
We pray that they may be like Jesus, honest with their people.
But of course, if they ask a sacrifice of their followers,
they must go that way themselves,
the cup they ask others to drink
must be one they drink themselves,
and if they ask others to receive a baptism
it should be one they have received themselves.

Lord, forgive us that as a church
we promise people heavenly rewards if they fulfil certain requirements.
Remind us that places at your right hand or your left
are not ours to give
but belong to those to whom they have been allotted.
 

Lord, it is not easy to work for the liberation of oppressed people.
We would like to do it the easy way,
giving hand-outs or making nice speeches.
But Jesus has shown us that this kind of work is always costly.
It is like the ancient practice of buying back salves,
except that for us the money we have to put out is our own selves,
our security and our need to be successful,
allowing ourselves to be hurt
and in that way healing the hurts of others and helping them go free.

Lord, we remember the time that jealousy arose in our church community,
our parish council, the choir, the youth group,
some trying to get places of honour and others indignant with them.
Then you sent someone who called us together
and showed us how we were no different from the other rulers in our society,
or other important people who like to make their authority felt.
We realised at that moment that this should never happen among us
because for us to be great or important is to be at the service of all.

Lord, we pray for those who are about to get married,
that they may understand what they are asking of each other,
which is that whatever cup of suffering one has to drink
the other must drink it too,
and whatever baptism life demands of one
the other must enter into that baptism too.
 

Illustrations: 

1)    "Before Cell-phones?" 

How many of us here this morning were born BC? By "BC" I mean "Before Cell-phones?" The first cell phone was invented in 1973 by Martin Cooper. My kids were born AC, but I was born BC. In a world of 7 billion people, there are now 5 billion cell phone subscriptions. Pretty amazing for something under 40 years old.

In the last forty years the cyber-cellular age has changed the way we do business, the way we get our education, the way we socialize. The world has never been so closely connected, and there has never been this much immediately accessible information as there is with our new online universe. Each cell phone is almost the equivalent of having the Library of Congress in our hands.

Unfortunately all that easily accessed info has also led to an epidemic of a new kind of crime - identity theft. With just a few bits of our personal information, an online burglar can electronically hijack anyone's identity and drain bank accounts, take out huge loans, run up mountains of credit card debt. Once your identity is stolen your name is no longer your own. No matter your name, your name is mud...

2)    Everybody Wants to Be Somebody 

Everybody wants to be somebody. Since the dawn of history, human beings have been trying to move up the scale of importance. The clincher used by the serpent to tempt Adam and Eve was "when you eat of [the tree of good and evil], your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:5). Henri Nouwen says that ever since then, we have been tempted to replace love with power. "The long painful history of the church is the history of people ever and again tempted to choose power over love, control over the cross, being a leader over being led." This is a theme running through the Bible, through human history and through our own psyche.

Kenneth L. Carder, The Call to Downward Mobility, The Christian Century, Oct. 8, 1997, p. 869 

3)    One Positive Thing 

"There are many negative things that can be said about James and John," writes William Barclay. "They were nakedly ambitious and proud: they wanted, and believed they deserved, places of honor in Jesus' kingdom. They were ignorant and insensitive: their request for places of honor came right after Jesus had told of His coming suffering and death. But there's one positive thing you can say about James and John: they believed in Jesus. Here was a poor, homeless, persecuted carpenter and yet James and John believed Jesus was a king. They believed that He would conquer the power structure of Rome." Even their crude ambition reflected their faith in Christ.


William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, pp. 254, 255. 

4)    Looking for an EZ Pass 

On many of our nation's toll roads, rather than stopping at a toll-booth to toss some change in a hopper, you can now purchase a transponder, sometimes called an EZ-Pass, and zip through in the left lanes without even slowing down to the acceptable speed limit. Instead of cash, tickets and paper receipts, it's a microchip tag placed on your windshield containing pertinent data which eases your way. Your data is quickly read by a tollbooth electronic antenna as your car zooms on through. It automatically deducts your appropriate toll tax. This computerized collection system then sends a monthly statement to your home with tallies of times and places for your records. EZ-Pass is like a debit card for your car, only quicker. No more stopping at the tollgate, the narrow gate.
Jesus says, I am the narrow gate. There's no quick way in. There's no shortcut. If he wasn't the Christ himself already, he'd be the perfect patron saint of tollgates.
Sometimes it seems that everybody wants the easy way to the front of the line, a quick way to glory and fast track to success. Including James and John, the brothers Zebedee, who want front-row seats numbering two and three. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment and see if you can identify with their self-centeredness. These guys gave up everything to follow Jesus. They followed Jesus when nobody knew him. They followed Jesus before his miracles. Now that he was popular, James and John were feeling the swell of fame. After all, they were Jesus' best friends, his disciples! So we can understand why two of them came to Jesus with their request.

David Beckett, EZ-Pass
 

5)    "Others"  

In just a few short weeks we will begin to see people in uniforms in shopping malls ringing bells collecting donations for the poor. They are doing the work of the Salvation Army.

In 1878, when the Salvation Army was really beginning to make its mark, men and women from all over the world began to enlist. A man who had once dreamed of becoming a bishop in another denomination crossed the Atlantic from America to England to enlist in the Salvation Army instead. His name was Samuel Brengle. Brengle left a fine pastorate to join William Booth's Army. At first General Booth accepted his services reluctantly and grudgingly. Booth said to Brengle, "You've been your own boss too long." So in order to instill humility in Brengle, he made him work by cleaning the boots of other trainees.

Discouraged, Brengle said to himself, "Have I followed my own fancy across the Atlantic in order to black boots?" Then, as in a vision, he saw Jesus bending over the feet of rough, uneducated fishermen. "Lord," he whispered, "you washed their feet; I will black their shoes."

Samuel Brengle went on to establish the Salvation Army in America. At the time of his death, the Salvation Army was thriving in both the United States and in Canada. Just before his death Brengle sent out a short memo to all of his top leaders. This memo had one single word written on it: "Others." 
 

King Duncan,
_____________________

6)    Caring Service and Its Impact 

A room-service waiter at a Marriott hotel learned that the sister of a guest had just died. The waiter, named Charles, bought a sympathy card, had hotel staff members sign it, and gave it to the distraught guest with a piece of hot apple pie.

"Mr. Marriott," the guest later wrote to the president of Marriott Hotels, "I'll never meet you. And I don't need to meet you. Because I met Charles. I know what you stand for. ... I want to assure you that as long as I live, I will stay at your hotels. And I will tell my friends to stay at your hotels."

Roger Dow and Susan Cook, Turned On, (New York: Harper Business, 1996).
 
7)    Power 

On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens in the Cascade Range of Washington exploded with what is probably the most visible indication of the power of nature that the modern world has ever seen. At 8:32 A.M. the explosion ripped 1,300 feet off the mountain, with a force of ten million tons of TNT, or roughly equal to five hundred Hiroshimas. Sixty people were killed, most by a blast of 300-degree heat traveling at two hundred miles an hour. Some were killed as far as sixteen miles away.

The blast also leveled 150-foot Douglas firs, as far as seventeen miles away. A total of 3.2 billion board-feet of lumber were destroyed, enough to build 200,000 three-bedroom homes.

Michael P. Green, Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, p. 269
____________________

 George Bernard Shaw was once asked in what generation he would have preferred to live. The witty Irishman replied: "The age of Napoleon, because then there was only one man who thought he was Napoleon."

G. Curtis Jones, "1000 Illustrations for Preaching and Teaching" p. 291
 
8)    Power Verses Service

Alexander, Caesar, and Hannibal conquered the world but had no friends....Jesus founded his empire upon love, and at this hour millions would die for him.... He has won the hearts of men, a task a conqueror cannot do."

Napoleon

____________________

9)    I wouldn’t do that for all the money in the world

A well-dressed European woman was on safari in Africa. The group stopped briefly at a hospital for lepers. The heat was intense, the flies buzzing. She noticed a nurse bending down in the dirt, tending to the pus-filled sores of a leper.

With disdain the woman remarked, "Why, I wouldn't do that for all the money in the world!"

The nurse quietly replied, "Neither would I." 
Donald L. Deffner, Seasonal Illustrations p. 130 

10)                  Service

"I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found a way to serve."

Albert Schweitzer
 
11)                  I Hate To Leave This Church

A Methodist pastor once wrote about power and politics in his denomination. Methodist preachers, he notes, are under the care of a bishop. Bishops, in turn, are Methodist preachers who are elected by fellow Methodist preachers after an extensive campaign for the office in which the candidate tries not to be caught campaigning. As he observes, It is a long-standing Methodist tradition that bishops must not appear to have sought their office and, once elected, the new bishop must make a public declaration that "I didn't seek this office and I didn't want it but, once the Lord calls" ... Methodist preachers take all of this with a grain of salt, the same way Baptist congregations have learned to be somewhat skeptical when one of their preachers moves on to a better church claiming, "I hate to leave this church and I would rather stay here, but the Lord calls." Baptists note that the Lord rarely calls someone out of one church into another church unless that church has a higher salary. Methodists have likewise noted that there have been few preachers who, once they are elected bishop, turn the job down. 

"Teacher, we want you to put us on your right and on your left. But keep it quiet. Don't make it too obvious. Others may become offended that we asked first." By telling us this story, Mark knows what you and I know: we are prone to the same desire for privilege and protected status. We want a Jesus who will give us what we want, a Lord who can shower a little power on us, a Savior who can make us better than we are.

William G. Carter, No Box Seats in the Kingdom, CSS Publishing.
 
12)                  What's In It For Me? 

A number of years ago, a small book appeared for ministers. Titled The Penguin Principles, it attempted to help naive clergy get a handle on the people of their congregations. Most of the material in the book was written with tongue in cheek, so it has some truth in it. According to the book, the first principle of church life goes like this: "Despite the pious things we say, at any given time, less than five percent of any group in the church is operating with purely Christian motivation. The other 95 percent is asking, 'What's in it for me?'"

William G. Carter, No Box Seats In The Kingdom, CSS Publishing.
 
13)                  Service

Have you heard the beautiful children's story about the three trees? The trees were talking in the forest one day about their dreams for the future. The first tree said it would like to be made into a cradle, so that it might go on living as a support for the fragile life of a tiny new baby. The second tree wanted to be made into a big ship, so that it might go on living, carrying important cargo and influential people to exotic new lands. The third tree longed to stay right where it was, existing only as a tree, but growing ever taller, and pointing ever higher, to remind everyone that there is a God in heaven who loves them. Those were their dreams: One wanted to be a cradle, one wanted to be a mighty ship, and one wanted to be a tall tree, pointing people toward God.
But then one day the woodcutters came and chopped down the three trees...and destroyed their dreams. The first tree was not made into a cradle, but into a simple feeding trough, a manger for animals. But the manger was sold to a family in Bethlehem, and on the night Jesus was born, that simple feed box became the cradle for the Christ Child.

The second tree was built into a boat, but not the kind it had dreamed of--not a mighty ocean-going vessel--but a tiny inexpensive fishing boat. A man named Simon Peter bought the boat, and on one warm afternoon when the crowds pressed in, Jesus himself climbed aboard that small fishing boats that he might preach good news to the multitudes.
The third tree also was deprived of its dream... 

14)                   Support your senator doing free service: 

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! (L/12)  

15)                  "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 great nations, viz. 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  as Service.
And then I went to work - and, lo and behold, I discovered that Service is Joy. 

Today’s   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. So, "How's Your Serve?"

16)                  "Sir, I  am a Corporal!"  

During the American Revolution, a man in civilian clothes rode past a group of soldiers who were busy pulling out a horse carriage stuck in deep mud. Their officer was shouting instructions to them while making no attempt to help. The stranger who witnessed the scene asked the officer why he wasn't helping. With great dignity, the officer replied, "Sir, I am a Corporal!" The stranger dismounted from his horse and proceeded to help the exhausted soldiers himself. When the job was completed, he turned to the corporal and said, "Mr. Corporal, next time you have a job like this, and dont have enough men to do it, inform your commander-in-chief, and I will come and help you again." Too late, the proud Corporal recognized General Washington. Where did Washington learn such leadership skills? I have no doubt he learned them here,  in these  words of  Jesus: Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.The young corporal had these words modeled for him by the man at the top. Jesus' disciples, likewise, receive from their leader a picture of servant hood.

17)                  Muhammad Ali  the  greatest.

Muhammad Ali, the boxer, used to call himself the     greatest!"       There     was     something comical     about     his arrogance.  Once he declared: "I float like a butterfly, I sting like a bee."  The story is told of him that once when he was on an airplane about to take off, the flight steward said, "Sir, would you please fasten your seat belt?"  Muhammad Ali replied, "Superman doesnt need a seat belt."  The steward replied, "In that case, Superman doesn’t need  an airplane  to  fly."     Today’s  gospel  tells  us of two of Jesus disciples who  wanted  to be supermento  sit at the right hand and the left hand of Jesus in his messianic kingdom-- to be the greatest, to be the first.