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Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time B: October 17, 2021

Mark 10: 25-35

By Rev. John Tran

When Doug Meland and his wife moved into a village of Brazil’s Fulnio Indians, he was referred to as “the white man,” an uncomplimentary term. Other white men had exploited the villagers, burned their homes, and robbed their lands. But after the missionaries learned the language and began to help people with medicine and in other ways, they began to call Doug, “the good white man.” And when the Melands began adopting the customs of the people, the Fulnio spoke of Doug as the “white Indian.” Then one day, as Doug was washing the dirty, blood-caked foot of an injured boy, he heard a bystander say, “Who ever heard of a white man washing an Indian’s foot? Certainly, this man is from God.” From that day, whenever Doug entered an Indian home, it would be announced, “Here comes the man God sent us.” That’s the secret of greatness: Service. That’s also the chief characteristic of those who follow Jesus. “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

James and John were certainly favored apostles among the Twelve. The brothers had seen Jesus do many wonderful things. James and John, along with Peter, were with Jesus during many of his important moment in his ministry. Only these three were with Jesus when he raised from the dead the the daughter of Jairus, the synagogue leader. Only they were with Jesus when he was transfigured on the mountain. They were with Jesus when the Samaritan village refused to welcome Jesus and wanted to call down on them fire from heaven. Jesus affectionately called the brothers the “sons of thunder.” They had been through a long formation period with Jesus.

And, yet with all this, James and John failed to really listen to Jesus well. Just before today’s gospel passage, Jesus had told the apostles that he would suffer at the hands of evil men and be put to death. Jesus had also said that he would rise in three days. All of this went right over their heads. Jesus dying was beyond their understanding; it did not compute. Jesus rising from the dead was talk they simply could not understand. So what did James and John find important?

James and John were thinking of what privileged part they would have when Jesus became the kind of Messiah they had always heard of and always wanted: a victorious ruler to replace the hated Romans. You see, after all the special treatment they had as disciples, all of the distinctive lessons they had been part of - - they missed the point. They were only thinking of themselves.

Now Jesus must have been disappointed, but he did not fuss at them or tell them to leave. No, he patiently and, perhaps even kindly, told them that they would indeed share the cup from which he would drink. Then he told them what being a leader after him would really mean: “whoever wishes to be great among you, will be your servant.” He told them again that life would not be what they expected, but a life turned upside down instead. I recently read a reflection on today's Gospel which gives us some concrete ways to embody what Jesus asks of us in order to bring about his Father's Kingdom:

Today’s Gospel message We should be the last to leave the side of a sick bed. We should be the last to let a grieving spouse sit alone. We should be the last to write off the children whose parents have failed them or thrown them away. We should be the last to ignore the homeless camped out along our streets. We should be the last to allow hunger to gnaw at the bellies of our neighbors. We should be the last to shrug our shoulders at ongoing environmental degradation. We should be the last to let despair grind down the powerless. We should be the last to condone cruelty of any kind, to any living thing. We should be the last to let human hatred triumph over Divine love.

Here are some suggestions of how you’d conduct Operation Omega:

  1. Purposely let others get in line before you.

  2. Try to be the last in line. And pray for those who seem most hurried and stressed because they’re not first in line.

  3. If someone in back of you at the check-out line has fewer items than you do, or even if they don’t but seem in a hurry, let them go in front of you.

  4. Let other cars “in” when they need a break.

  5. Measure your success at sporting events not by how many points you can score, but how many assists you can generate.

We may be tempted to sneer at James and John. How stupid could they be, after all. But in fact, the brothers are very much like us. Can we drink the cup from which Jesus drank? Today we look at what we find important about Jesus and his message. What does Jesus’ life call out to us about our own? Are we looking for what we will get out of following him, or do we focus on the other, on whatever service we may be able to give? Are we more concerned with our own place in heaven, rather than what we can do to bring about the Father’s Kingdom?

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