October 18: 29th Sunday Ordinary Time Year B
Readings: Isaiah 53:10-11; Hebrew 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45
This Sunday Jesus teaches his disciples to avoid ambition and embrace his own example of leadership as service and self-sacrifice for others. Just as ambition was found among his disciples, we must not be surprised to find even “Saints Behaving Badly” as that title of a book by Thomas J. Craughwell reveals. The book for example profiles St. Hyppolitus (3rd Cent) who was an intellectual genius, but so arrogant that he even considered and said publicly that the pope was intellectually inferior to him. When the pope died, Hyppolytus thought himself to be the logical successor, but as it happens when the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, the successor was St. Callixtus his arch enemy, whose feast we just celebrated this past week. Hyppolytus was so arrogant and ambitious that he allowed his followers to make him the “anti-pope.” The emperor condemned him to hard labor in Sardinia, and then repented. This story goes to show that ambition in the Church has been and continues to be an enormous challenge even today, and therefore the need to take the message of this Sunday quite seriously. The readings this Sunday focus our attention on Christ the suffering servant, as our model of Christian leadership. In the first reading from Isaiah, the prophet sings about the suffering Servant who through his suffering, shall justify many, and bear their guilt. The passage is taken from the fourth song and is applied to Christ who gives his life as a ransom for many. The Gospel is quite relevant to the reality of the Church today. At all levels of Church life starting from the universal level to the parish communities, one is struck by the ambitious seeking after positions of leadership quite similar to that of the sons of Zebedee in the Gospel. Jesus knew the human condition very well and wanted to let them know what they were asking for. “Can you drink cup that I must drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
The Gospel therefore leads us to discover Christ’s example as a model self-giving leadership in the Church. By taking on himself the role of a servant and redeeming us by his own suffering and death, Christ has turned all human ambitions upside down. "Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” One must be struck by the irony of James and John’s request because when the time comes for them to take their place one of the right and the other on the left, they were no where to be seen at Calvary! They too eventually would drink the cup and be healed in a martyr’s death. Hyppolytus too repented and drank the cup of martyrdom and was healed. The true disciple therefore is the one who aspires to one thing only: sharing in the sufferings of the master. So what is the message? 1) Leadership is not about seats and positions, but about service and self-sacrifice for others. This coming week, we are invited to reflect on the style of leadership in our parish community; 2)We are challenged to model our leadership on the example of Christ, who “did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 3) As leaders we are challenged to assume a style of humble service to others and of being always ready to endure suffering for them as Jesus did for us.
©2009 John M. Mbinda