Ordinary Time 29, Year B-2009
- I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me (Gal. 2:20)
I think I have to hand it to the Zebedee brothers, James and John. They might have been brazen and divisive in their request, but it was all due, I suspect, to their certainty about, and enthusiasm for, the kingdom that Jesus was ushering in. I would not be surprised if they found strength and joy in following Christ (cf. today’s collect prayer). Admirable as well, I believe, was their decided readiness to partake of Jesus’ cup and baptism.
Moreover, the two succeeded: they got from Jesus the assurance that they would be with him in glory. For in confirming that indeed they would drink of his cup and be baptized with his baptism, Jesus, in effect, gave them a guarantee of glory. After all, one who participates in Christ’s sufferings will be overjoyed when his glory is revealed and will be blessed with the descent of the Spirit of glory (1 Pt. 4:13-14). One who dies with Christ Jesus will also live with him, suffering necessarily as the Messiah did before entering into his glory (2 Tim. 2:11; Lk. 24:26); one becomes like the Servant in today’s first reading who is destined to see the light in fullness of days because of his affliction, like the humble one who became obedient to death and was therefore greatly exalted (Phil. 2:8-9).
Having said all this, I must of necessity still defer to Jesus. He said clearly, “To sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared.” James and John were asking too much. It was as though they were suggesting that participation in Jesus’ sufferings would give them the right to occupy the best places.
But no amount of suffering really can merit glory for anybody. There is no proportionality possible between what Jesus’ followers can endure now and the glory that is to be revealed for them (Rom. 8:18). Genuine disciples of Jesus are like faithful servants who, having done everything they were told to do, are expected to admit, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty” (Lk. 17:10).
Such servanthood, which makes one sacrifice one’s own life, affirms that God’s love is better than life (cf. Ps. 63:4). Its service constitutes genuine authority and true greatness. Its death is life and its cross is exaltation (cf. Jn. 3:14; 8:28; 12:23-25, 32). This servanthood is high priesthood that, according to the second reading, is effective because of its sympathy and identification with the weak and the tested, to whom access to the throne of grace is thus given. This is the priesthood that supposes the giving up of the body and the shedding of blood. Yet this dismemberment makes for remembrance. Their memory will live on—yes, I have to hand it to them—those who, like the apostle Paul, have been crucified with Christ.