Lectio Divina: 29th Sunday of ordinary time (B)
Leaders must serve
1. Opening prayer
God of peace and forgiveness, You have given us Christ as an example of total service, even to giving us His very life; grant us to find favor in Your sight that we may share the cup of Your will to its dregs and live in the generous and fruitful service of each other.
a) The context:
This episode comes straight after the third prediction of the Passion (Mk 10:32-34). As on the occasions of the other predictions, the disciples’ reaction is not positive: two of them are worried about who is going to be first in the Kingdom and the others become indignant. This tells us that the disciples had difficulty accepting the painful destiny of their Master and understanding the mystery of the Kingdom. The two who come with a request – James and John – are brothers and are part of the group of friends of Jesus (Mk 1:19-20). Their nickname is boanerges (“sons of thunder” Mk 3:17). They were a little impetuous.
b) The text:
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." He replied, "What do you wish me to do for you?" They answered him, "Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left." Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" They said to him, "We can." Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared." When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John. Jesus summoned them and said to them, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."
3. A moment of silent prayer
to re-read the text with our heart and to recognize in the words and structure, the presence of the mystery of the living God.
4. Some questions
to see the important points in the text and begin to assimilate them.
a) Why were the disciples so anxious to take the first places?
b) Does Jesus’ reply make sense?
c) What does Jesus mean by the cup to drink and the baptism to be baptized?
d) On what does Jesus base service in the community?
5. Some deepening of the reading
”Grant us to sit, one at Your right hand and one at Your left, in Your glory”
Even though they were careful in the way they phrased their question, it is clear that they were quite ambitious. According to tradition, they may have been cousins of Jesus, and therefore – according to Eastern law – they had a special right, as members of the family. In any case, it is clear that they have understood nothing about what Jesus was about to do. He was on the way to the ignominy of the cross, and they still had not understood Him. Jesus’ true power did not consist in distributing places of honor, but in asking them to share His tragic destiny: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?”
“The cup that I drink you will drink”
The dialogue concerning the cup and the baptism (vv. 38-39) is obviously parallel. But it is not easy to understand how the two disciples can drink the cup and be baptized, unless one thinks of the martyrdom both of them suffered later. By these two images, Jesus seems to evoke His violent death, which He foretells as an absolute obligation of fidelity to the Father. The reply to their request to sit next to Him is evasive: but we can understand that it means that their way is not the right way to obtain the request.
“The ten began to be indignant”
Clearly they too share the same ambition. However, this verse seems to be an editorial addition to connect two episodes, which originally were not placed together. This changes the subject completely. But the fact that their indignation is recorded is probably based on some other episode where the disciples do not appear in a good light and is therefore authentic.
“Those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them… But it shall not be so among you”
Jesus is referring to political leaders of His time, and really this is also the style of political leadership in all times. On the other hand, the community of disciples must be ruled by service. Two terms express this service in a gradual manner. Jesus first speaks of “servant” (diakonos) and then of “slave” (doulos). One cannot choose whom one will serve: one must be a slave of all, thus overturning the worldly order.
“For the Son of man also…”
Here we find the basis of the constitutional law of the community: to follow the Master’s style, by giving, like Him, one’s life in the spirit of service; thus becoming truly “lords” through the gift of one’s life, not by just pretending. It is difficult to interpret “ransom” or redemption, as Fr. X. Léon Dufour says, we can understand this well when we reflect on the words that Jesus speaks at the Last Supper. Then Jesus’ whole life appears in the light of “ransom”, of fidelity to the very end for the freedom of humankind. He deprives Himself of freedom so that He can give freedom, to ransom those who have no freedom.
Thus the statutes of the community of disciples is characterized by service, by a lack of ambition, by a life given and destined for the ransom of others.
6. Psalm 33 (32)
A prayer for justice and peace
Sing to Him a new song,
play skillfully on the strings,
with loud shouts.
For the word of the Lord is upright;
and all His work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
and all their host by the breath of His mouth.
He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle;
He put the deeps in storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord,
let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him!
For He spoke, and it came to be;
He commanded, and it stood firm.
The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
He frustrates the plans of the peoples.
The counsel of the Lord stands for ever,
the thoughts of His heart to all generations.
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people whom He has chosen as His heritage!
The Lord looks down from heaven,
He sees all the sons of men;
from where He sits enthroned
He looks forth on all the inhabitants of the earth,
He who fashions the hearts of them all,
and observes all their deeds.
7. Closing prayer
Lord our God, keep Your Son’s disciples from the easy ways of popularity, of cheap glory, and lead them to the ways of the poor and scourged of the earth, so that they may recognize in their faces the face of the Master and Redeemer. Give them eyes to see possible ways of peace and solidarity; ears to hear the requests for meaning and salvation of so many people who seek; enrich their hearts with generous fidelity and a sensitivity and understanding so that they may walk along the way and be true and sincere witnesses to the glory that shines in the crucified resurrected and victorious One. Who lives and reigns gloriously with You, Father, forever and ever. Amen.