“Allow us to sit one at Your right hand and the other at your left in Your glory” (Mark 10: 37)
Today is the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time. This day coincides with the annual Mission Sunday. In 1926, Pope Pius XI created Mission Sunday to serve as an annual reminder of the mission and purpose of the Church Universal. It is celebrated on the penultimate Sunday in October every year. The Church is by nature missionary. The charter given to the Apostles by Christ, the Founder reads: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations. Baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Spirit, and teach them to fulfil all that I have commanded you. I am with you always until the end of this world” (Matthew 28: 19-20; Mark 16: 15; Luke 24: 47; Acts 1: 8)). Therefore, in essence the Church was commissioned to “Go out to the whole world!” The primary duty of the Church therefore is to evangelise; to teach; and to baptise. This is what each of us has been called to do by our personal lives and witnessing. The Pope reminds us today the “Every man and woman is a mission; that is the reason for our life on this earth.” We pray that God may grant us the grace to support the mission of the Church and to live out the mission of our lives.
Jesus Himself had a mission to live out – to die in order to save man. It was clear and He tried to teach His disciples to understand this but they continuously failed in this regard. In the Gospel of today (Mark 10: 35-45), we encounter James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were fondly called “sons of thunder” (Mark 3: 17), came up to Jesus to ask “a favour.” “Master”, they said “Allow us to sit one at Your right hand and the other at your left in Your glory” (Mark 10: 37). This demonstrated a spectacular failure in understanding the mission of Jesus by the disciples. For Jesus had just reminded them, for the third time, of His suffering, death and resurrection in the previous verse (Mark 10: 33-34). We remember the first time Peter remonstrated with Jesus; the second time they were silent after quarrelling about who was the greatest and now the sons of Zebedee are asking for exalted seats in His glory. How hard it is to hear and learn when, man has made up his mind about something! No doubt, James and John were still trapped in the misconception of the kingdom and the glory of their Master despite several explanations. For them, the kingdom and glory was likened to that of David, the great king of Israel. Jesus, they thought would overthrow the Romans and assume the powerful throne of political leadership as the new king of Israel. Hence their request to sit at the right and left hand respectively. Though this was a very selfish and inconsiderate request that could have angered Jesus, He remained calm and seize the opportunity once again to teach what His kingdom was all about and what it meant to sit at His “right and left hand.”
“You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptised in the baptism that I must be baptised?” (Mark 10: 38). Indeed, they had no idea of their very question neither did they know what their response “We can” meant. However, Jesus affirmed their answer: you shall drink the cup that I must drink and be baptised with the baptism that I must be baptised. As for seats by My right and left hands, those belong to the Father to grant and to those to whom they have been allotted (Mark 10: 39-40). What were the “cup” and “baptism” that Jesus referred to here? For the Jews, “the cup” was a symbol of God’s judgement – blessings for the righteous, wrath for the sinful. Jesus had come to drink “the cup” of sinful humanity and to be plunged or immersed into the sufferings that man deserved. This is the way that Jesus fulfilled the Messianic prophecy in the First Reading: “By His suffering shall My Servant justify many, taking their fault on Himself” (Isaiah 53: 11). Therefore “the cup” referred to the Passion and Death that Jesus would die and “the baptism” referred to the suffering that Jesus would endure for us all. This, the “Sons of Thunder” did not know. By accenting to their request Jesus was offering them the invitation to be immersed or plunged into His suffering; and a share in His death. History has it that James was the first apostle to die, after Stephen. He was killed by the sword by King Herod Agrippa I of Judea (Acts 12: 1-2). Thus Jesus’ words certainly came to pass in the life of James and probably in the life of John as there are no consensus about how John died, except that he was the last of the twelve to die.
The other disciples at hearing the request of the James and John became “indignant.” Jesus, seeing their reaction which pointed to their lack of understanding of the whole mission of Jesus, seized the opportunity to teach them what true discipleship is about – that it is about being different. That is, it is about being in the world and not being of the world (John 17: 14-19). That it is not about power but service; not the crown but the cross; not sitting on the throne but washing the feet of others; not being the first but the last; not being a lord but a little child. That the path to glory is through self-sacrifice. To be a disciple of Jesus, one must be ready to turn the standards of the world on its head; not act like the Gentiles, who lord it over but act like Christ, who came to serve and truly served. This is what we are called to do right form the day of our baptism, from the day we gave our lives to Christ. We are called to be a “sign of contradiction.”
Sometimes we too can get so selfish and inconsiderate like James and John. Many time we strive after power and influence as though they were the only necessary ideals worth pursuing. Have we ever asked ourselves why and for what purpose we seek power? Is it to serve or to dominate, to uplift or to suppress, to empower or to deprive, to transform or to deform? There are times when the cross becomes very heavy and the sacrifice become unbearable; there are times when the darkness seems encompassing and we find it very difficult to understand what it means to be a disciple and to follow Jesus.
At such times we pray, Lord open the minds of our hearts to understand what your call holds for us and the grace to keep holding on and persevering in our struggle to love You and serve You in our neighbours, especially in those placed under us. Amen.