Wednesday, October 14, 2015

29th Sunday Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Is 53:10-11; Heb 4:14-16; Mk 10:34-45

Saints Behaving Badly – the title of a book by Thomas J. Craughwell, helps to capture best the message of this Sunday readings. The book shows that saints are not born but made. It also reveals that some saints were made of very rough materials indeed. It lays bare unsaintly behavior of thirty-two venerated holy men and women, uncovering their scandalous and sleazy detours they took on the road to sainthood. The book, for example, profiles St. Hyppolitus in the 3rd century who before repentance 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 always happens when the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, the successor was St. Callistus (218-223) his arch enemy. Hyppolytus was so arrogant and extremely ambitious that he allowed his followers to make him the “anti-pope.” The emperor condemned him to hard labor on the island of Sardinia where he later repented. This story helps to highlight the enormous challenge of ambition the Church still faces today, and therefore the need to take the message of this Sunday quite seriously. The readings focus our attention on Christ the suffering servant, as our model of Christian leadership. The Gospel is quite relevant to the reality of the Church today. One is struck by the ambition of seeking after positions of power at all levels of Church life.

In the Gospel the sons of Zebedee are behaving badly by being too ambitious, and Jesus takes the opportunity to give a wonderful catechesis on leadership as service, based on his own example.  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.” Pope Francis has often spoken about ambition and power seeking in the Church. Last year he referred to ambitious people as climbers, people driven by ambition! He then challenged them: “But if you like climbing go to the mountains and climb them: it is healthier! Do not come to Church to climb! So what message do we take home? 1) Leadership is not about seats and positions, but about service and self-sacrifice for others. 2) Jesus challenges us to follow his own example, for he “did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 3) Pope Francis reminds us that the Church is not a place to climb. If you like climbing, go to the mountains!

©2015 John S. Mbinda

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