Fr. Ver Bust's Column:|
"Explaining the Gospel"
|Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Those who lead are to be servants
Jesus' ministry is that of a servant and he will face the possibility of death
October 22, Twenty-ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time
By Fr. Richard Ver Bust
The question of authority and how it fits within the context of church life is an important consideration in today's gospel reading.
In the gospel reading Mark has put together typical statements that have appeared elsewhere such as the reversal of values. There also is an element of misunderstanding and even paradox.
Initially it begins with a question posed to Jesus by two of his disciples, James and John. The statement they make is unlimited for they want Jesus, their teacher, to grant their request whatever it might be. This is certainly a bold move. When Jesus asks what they want, they ask to be his right and left hand men, in other words, the top leaders even among the disciples. They certainly misunderstand what Jesus' ministry is all about. Mark again and again tells us that
Jesus tried to teach the disciples that he, even as Messiah, is not going to lead a revolutionary
overthrow of the Romans. He is not going to reestablish the physical kingdom of David. His
ministry will be that of a servant and he will face the possibility of death in challenging the
leaders of Israel.
Jesus, therefore, asks the two whether they can really accept all that goes with being his disciples? The baptism he refers to is a baptism in blood. James and John misunderstand for they say, "we can." If they really understood, they probably would not have accepted what Jesus said
that is dying for the kingdom. Jesus simply turns things around and suggests that if they do continue to follow him they will face what he faces. When Mark wrote his gospel, some of the disciples had already been killed. Peter would have died in the persecution in Rome by Nero and Mark probably wrote his gospel just a few years later.
The other disciples, we are told, are angry. They are probably angry because they wanted to have the same roles but James and John had beat them asking for it. They too were very ambitious and like James and John misunderstood their future ministry. All of this gives Mark an opportunity
to speak to the question of real authority in the kingdom of God. Jesus teaches his disciples that they must not think in terms of how authority is exercised among the Gentiles. Authority in the
kingdom is one of service and not of domination. Power or authority in so many cases is one in
which people seek to dominate those whom they lead. This leads to abuses.
In the kingdom of God, those who lead are to be servants of the very persons they lead. It is a reversal of what we have come to think of authority. Mark is telling the leaders of the Roman Church that they must serve the church. Like Jesus they must serve even to the point of giving up their lives.
Jesus had told James and John that it was not his role to make such appointments. Jesus did not deny that his ministry would lead to glory but it was a glory that God would give him because of what he would do. Mark identifies Jesus with that mysterious figure in Daniel, the Son of Man. He teaches that his ministry would lead to death but that death would serve as means to ransom those who believe. Mark thus has given us one of the interpretations of the meaning of Christ's death.
The liturgy emphasizes this meaning by giving us a reading from the prophet Isaiah. In that
passage, Isaiah sees one who is a servant giving up his life for others. For what that servant does,
God will exalt the servant and give the servant glory.
(Fr. Ver Bust is professor emeritus in religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)