by Fr. Tommy Lane
Poor James and John! They do not understand Jesus or his mission. They do not understand what they are asking Jesus when they ask for seats at his right and his left. They say they can drink the cup Jesus will drink and be baptized with the baptism Jesus will undergo. (Mark 10:35-45) They have no idea what this means. But they will learn later when the time comes for Jesus to drink the cup of his passion and undergo the baptism of his passion. James was the first of the apostles to be martyred for Jesus. In Acts 12:2 we read that Herod had him slain by the sword in Jerusalem. John was the only one of the apostles to accompany Jesus all the way to the cross. John was the only one of the apostles to see Jesus drinking the cup of his passion and undergoing the baptism of his passion on the cross. Then they would understand the words of Jesus in the Gospel today that anyone who wants to be great will be servant to all (Mark 10:43) and whoever wants to be first will be slave to all (Mark 10:44). Then they would understand the words of Jesus today that the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
The first reading today from Isaiah (Isa 53:10-11) is an excerpt of the last of four beautiful prophecies/songs about a mysterious servant who would bring salvation through his sufferings. We see it as a prophecy of Jesus’ Passion and because it is so accurate a description of Jesus’ Passion it has been called a miracle of the Old Testament, although written many centuries previously. We listen to the entire prophecy/song on Good Friday every year. Today’s excerpt tells us why Jesus suffered his Passion, to make atonement for our sins. Yes it was the Jewish priests who condemned Jesus and handed him over to Pilate, and it was the Roman soldiers who scourged and crucified Jesus, but it was for our sins that Jesus died. So instead of saying Jesus was crucified by the Romans we could say Jesus was crucified by our sins. The first reading (Isa 53:10-11) brings out this point clearly. It talks of the suffering servant giving his life as an offering for sin, through his suffering the servant shall justify many, and he shall bear their guilt. Taking Jesus to be that servant, it couldn’t be clearer; Jesus gave his life as an offering for our sin, he bore our guilt, and through his suffering he justified many. The Chaplet of Divine Mercy also makes this clear; “for the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” Meditating on Jesus’ passion, then, moves us to repentance. The reading says he justified “many” – not all - and during the Last Supper in Mark, Jesus says over the chalice that it is the blood of the covenant poured out for many (Mark 14:24), and “many” is now the translation we use in the consecration of the Mass since the revision of the missal last year (2011). Pope Benedict in Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection offers an explanation; Jesus died for all but many receive the sacrament of the Eucharist. Jesus died for all (see 1 Tim 2:6) and the Eucharistic cup is poured out for many (p135-136). But the first reading contains more; the reading says the servant shall see the light (Isa 53:11) which we take to be Jesus’ resurrection.
We have a very strong devotion to Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection because Jesus did it for us, and Holy Week is the highlight of every year. The four evangelists also show their devotion to Jesus’ passion because of the huge amount of space they devote to Jesus’ passion in each of their Gospels (Matt 26-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 22-23; John 18-19). Following the Last Supper, Jesus and the eleven apostles went to Gethsemane. James and John together with Peter were invited by Jesus to stay close to him during his agony in Gethsemane. (Mark 14:33) He told them his soul was sorrowful to the point of death and to stay there and watch (Mark 14:34), the first sorrowful mystery of the rosary. When Jesus was arrested in the garden after Judas led soldiers there from the Sanhedrin, all abandoned Jesus (Mark 14:50). Then Jesus underwent two trials; a religious trial before the Sanhedrin followed by a civil trial before Pilate. At the same time as the first trial, the religious trial before the Sanhedrin, Peter denied Jesus three times. During that trial people gave false testimony against Jesus. The Sanhedrin decided that Jesus deserved death but since they did not have the authority to kill Jesus they handed him over to Pilate for a trial before Pilate so that Pilate could have him killed. During the trial before Pilate, false charges were once again brought against Jesus. We read in John’s Gospel that Pilate repeatedly said he could find not Jesus guilty of anything (John 18:38; 19:4,6) but the crowd had turned against Jesus and asked for the release of Barabbas. I wonder how many in that crowd had welcomed Jesus with palms as he entered Jerusalem. How quickly people turn against Jesus! Although convinced of Jesus’ innocence Pilate handed Jesus over to be scourged. Following the scourging the Roman soldiers mocked Jesus as a king by placing a crown of thorns on him, spitting on him and striking him (John 19:1-3). These are the second and third sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary. Then Jesus was led away to be crucified and needed the help of Simon of Cyrene to help him carry his cross, the fourth sorrowful mystery of the rosary.
Because Jesus died for all, the second reading today calls Jesus a priest (Heb 4:14-16). A priest is one who offers a sacrifice and Jesus offered his own life in sacrifice to atone for our sins - the fifth sorrowful mystery of the rosary - so the Letter to the Hebrews describes Jesus as a priest, the only book in the New Testament to do so. The letter reminds us that Jesus is a compassionate priest because he was tempted like us though he did not sin and therefore we can confidently approach him.
One who did confidently approach Jesus was Saint Kateri Tekakwitha who was canonized today in Rome by Pope Benedict (October 21, 2012), the first native American saint, named today as the Protectress of Canada. She shared in Jesus drinking the cup of his passion and undergoing the baptism of his passion through the persecution she underwent after her conversion to Catholicism and by her self-mortification. Sister Marianne Cope, also canonized today, shared in the cup of Jesus’ passion when she cared for the lepers on Hawaii, including Father Damien, after many others refused and took over his work when he died. It meant she had to lose contact with the world.
Just as St. Kateri Tekakwitha underwent a conversion, James and John also converted from being greedy and selfish in the Gospel today to serve Jesus, each in his own way drinking the cup of Jesus’ Passion and undergoing the baptism of Jesus’ Passion. James gave his life in Jerusalem for Jesus and John looked after Mary taking her to safety in Ephesus in what we now call Turkey when Jerusalem became too unsafe due to persecutions of Christians. John would continue to give of himself for Jesus by writing one of our four Gospels, New Testament letters and the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation/Apocalypse.
The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus, the Suffering Servant of the first reading, gave his life as an offering for our sin, he bore our guilt, and through his suffering he justified many. James, John, Kateri Tekakwitha and Sister Marianne Cope grew in self-sacrifice to become self-giving as Jesus. James, John, Kateri Tekakwitha and Sister Marianne Cope are models for us to grow in sharing with Jesus as he drinks the cup of his passion and undergoes the baptism of his passion.
Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2012
More Homilies for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday Year B
Related Homilies: see homilies for twenty-fifth Sunday
For more on the Passion of Jesus see Good Friday
Death of the apostles (excerpt)
Second Reading: humanity of Jesus
First Reading: Jesus’ suffering as revealed by the Shroud of Turin