As I've shared before, this green "ordinary" season of 26 weeks is all about learning to live the Christian life. This week is no exception, but with an unusual twist. The last line of the Gospel still lingers in our ears:
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.
Today's Gospel begins with the disciples James and John asking Jesus for special positions in his kingdom. "We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." They along with all the other disciples have missed the point of what Jesus has been trying to teach them: they refuse to receive what Jesus is teaching them with child-like trust. They are concerned with looking out for number One, and, James and John are even betraying the other disciples by secretly asking certain favors for themselves. The disciples are so human, while Jesus is full of divine love in everything he says and does toward their humanity (and ours!).
How is this? Jesus, in his divinity, has the all glory and honor. In truth, Jesus rules the earth already. Jesus needs nothing. He doesn't even need divine dignity, and because of all this, he is free to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.
It's interesting to note, that James and John, in their bold request to Jesus, very embarrassing in itself, is changed in a later parallel in Matthew, to having the mother of James and John make the request. The woman takes on the embarrassment of the question upon herself. No one can fault a Jewish mother for asking the best for her boys!
Getting back on track: God needs nothing from us, even our tremendous offer of service (with a few perks, we hope). But God does need one thing from us absolutely: our love, from an intimate, interior life with him. Didn't he say it: Come to me all you who labor and are heavily burdened? Jesus humbles himself, lowers himself to our level, even below our level, to be our servant. He will take all the pain and violence of the world on himself.
Some historical background to the above verse: In Jesus' time there were many kidnappings and small wars going on continually. Many were held captive and enslaved. There was no way out unless someone, a savior, came along who would pay ransom for release. This is the context of Jesus' remarks. This is not about paying a ransom to his Father so that we could become lovable to God despite our sins. (St. Anselm's theory of Atonement) No, the ransom Jesus paid was to humankind and to free us from the cruelty we impose on each other. As Isaiah put it: He was brused for our iniquities.
The disciples were full of the weakness of the human condition, just like we are. Thank God, we are so fortunate Jesus liked to hang out with sinners! He came for them, not the ones who thought they were righteous.
So what is the message this Sunday in ordinary time? What shall we do? Most sermons on this text, including many that I have given, have concluded with the point: Jesus served us, so now let us go serve others in his Name. Haven't you heard this many times? Problem is, yes, we do try to serve others sometimes, but we know we fail most of the time, so what happens is we build up more and more guilt in ourselves. We come to church where we are encouraged to do good and most of the time go a way with more guilt than we started with as a result of our failure to accomplish not so much at all. No wonder people don't join us in great numbers! Who wants more guilt?
So let's do the opposite! Let's let Jesus serve us, ransom us from our various captivities and guilt. Let's let go of what we usually think: I've got to do more, but I don't really. Instead, let Jesus serve us, free us, feed us, like in the Holy Eucharist today. This is why Jesus came into the world! Para sivirles! Let's not be like Peter who said: You're not going to wash my feet Jesus! Let him! Let's let Jesus be Jesus for us-- and see what happens! Let's start today. Let's see what happens!