21 October 201829 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
29 Ordinary Time
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B - Mark 10:35-45

When the Emperor and Empress of Japan visited the United States, prominent people behaved like children. They wanted to be in pictures with the royals. They wanted to somehow bask in their prominence. The president of a large corporation sullenly said of one senior political official, "He just shoved me aside." One wonders whom he himself had pushed aside. (The New York Times) Today's 2000 year old Gospel of wanting to be in the spotlight is as current as today. But let those among us who do not pursue celebrities be the first to throw a stone at the above people. They will walk among us without a bruise. The naked ambition of James and John as described in the Gospel should be of much consolation to everyone of us. Mark today is telling us that neither one of these gentlemen was a saint. He is painting them warts and all. And his point is that it is with such proud, preening characters as these the Christ conquered the world.

So, as the third millennium of Christianity is with us, there is a place and job for each of us with all our peccadillos in the divine plan. But we should not beat up too much on the brothers James and John. This tale illustrates their tremendous faith in the Teacher. The Master had just predicted for the third time His approaching murder. He was an outlaw with a price on His head. He stood before them exhausted and dressed in rags. He did not possess a dollar to His name. To all appearances, He was a loser. Yet, James and John were absolutely convinced that when push came to shove, He would be a big winner. They were surely guilty of wanting the spotlight, but also they possessed a faith in Jesus that was overwhelming. Would that you and I had such faith in the Nazarene! Ambition traditionally gets a bad press. Joseph Tetlow mentions its critics. St Bernard labels it, "the parent of hypocrisy." Mr Shakespeare considered it a sinister drive. No less an authority than King Henry VIII says of it, "By that sin fell the angels." Spinoza pictured it as a madness. For TS Eliot, all history "deceives with whispering ambition." But having set up ambition as the fall guy, Tetlow reminds us there is much to be said for it. Joshua was most anxious to establish the Jews in the land flowing with milk and honey. David wanted to erect a temple to honor God.

The Macabees set about to insure there would be nothing but authentic worship in the temple. St Paul announced in a letter to the Romans that he longed to convert Spain to Christ. Jesus Himself was clearly a person of ambition. His self-appointed job definition was to travel from village to village speaking of the Good News. He wanted to gather Jerusalem under His wings. He set His face, in the words of today's Gospel, to "give His life as a ransom for many." So, obviously ambition is not all bad. What a more attractive Church we would belong to if each of us had the ambition, like the Lord, to serve and not to be served, to minister and not be ministered to. A self-proclaimed distaste for ambition can be a very thinly disguised cop-out for an unwillingness to serve. Recall that question put to Pope John XXIII by a visitor, "How many people work here in the Vatican?"

Without a twinkle in his eye, the Pope responded, "About a third of them!" Working for Christ the Pope is saying is not a part time-job. The contemporary Church is in dire need of many more Joshuas, Davids, Macabees, and Pauls. And it looks to us today to step into their empty sandals. The sad truth is that far too many of us want to do as little as possible while getting as much as possible. We want to take and not to give. We want the bonus without the onus. We want to be God's grandchildren but not His children. The Christ and His Church become the big losers. The apostles of today's Gospel, James and John, paid their dues and then some. The verdict is out on each of us. What we need then is more Gospel ambition and not less of it. This may be a wicked age, St Paul told us, but our lives should redeem it. Keep the faith, we are advised, but not to ourselves. 

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
29 Ordinary Time
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Authority and Service

James and John had it all wrong. They wanted authority. They wanted to sit at the right hand and left hand of Jesus when the Kingdom of God was established on earth. They wanted to lord it over others. They wanted to be powerful and feared because of their power. They looked forward to being in authority. They had it all wrong. In the Kingdom of God, authority would come through service, not through power. I had a life lesson in this many years ago when I was a teacher at Mary Help of Christians School in Tampa. At that time the school was a boarding school for boys from grades 6 through 9. And they were stinkers. I was with the Salesians of St. John Bosco and was Brother Joe, not a priest yet. I was at the school with three other teaching brothers, all right out of college, and all overwhelmed by our work. I have some really embarrassing memories of my two years at that school. We were not trained to handle troubled children, and many of the children had severe problems. We did our best, but, sadly, we often acted like children ourselves.

Although the Salesian educational model is one of preventing children from getting into trouble, in reality, the model we followed was having the kids fear us. There would be a lot of yelling and punishments. That was our way of achieving authority, through power and fear. I regret the times that I joined in this myself. But we also worked very hard for the children. I remember having five preparations a day, five unique classes to teach, and a total of 35 minutes a day when I was not supervising the children. I would try to do my lesson plans while attempting to keep the kids quiet in the study hall. It rarely worked. One day, though, the strangest thing happened. Besides everything else, we decided to put on a musical, You're a Good Man Charlie Brown. We needed music. I used to play the piano in high school and college, so I volunteered to provide the music. But this meant I had to practice. Instead of going to bed at the time I usually did, in my private room with 28 ninth graders, the dorm I supervised, I used to wait until the kids fell asleep, then sneak out to practice the piano.

The other brothers would keep an eye on my dorm. I remember that I was way beyond tired for weeks. Well, this one day I was teaching an eighth grade class in history, standing in front of the class, when I suddenly thought that it would be a good idea to open my eyes. You may have had a similar experience at a boring conference at work, opening your eyes and hoping that the boss didn't notice you. Anyway, to get back to the story, I had fallen asleep standing up. I looked at my watch, and there were fifteen minutes missing from the class. I continued the class making believe nothing had happened. When the bell rang and the kids started leaving, I asked one of the eighth graders if I had fallen asleep. He said, "Yeah, you did." Then I asked him why the class had behaved so well. They didn't take advantage of the situation, but just stayed at their desks reading on their own. The boy said to me, "Well, we all know that you've been working real hard for us; so we thought we should let you sleep." On that day I learned that authority comes from service, not from position or power or fear. You parents, good parents as you are, know this. You want your children to respect you and, for their sakes, listen to you.

You know that you earn that respect not through intimidation and fear, but by your sacrifice for them. Your way of life, your daily routine, revolves around caring for your children. Sometimes you have to remind your children about all that Mom and Dad does for them out of love, but all in all, your children respect you because they experience how much you show your love for them every day. That is the source of your authority. This is what Jesus is telling James, John and the other disciples. True power, true authority, flows from service. 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." We are a Eucharistic people. You hear that expression all the time. But what does that really mean?

We celebrate Jesus' Presence in the Blessed Sacrament. We receive communion. We adore his Presence in our tabernacles and during Eucharistic adoration services. But that is just one part of the Eucharistic dimension of our lives. To be a Eucharistic people, our celebration of the Eucharist must encompass washing the feet of the Lord's people. Remember that was what Jesus did before He gave His Body and Blood at the Last Supper. He washed the feet of his disciples and then issued the Mandatum, the mandate for them and for us: "What you have seem me do, you also must do." This was followed by the sacrament of the Lord's Body and Blood. We celebrate the Eucharist through service to others and continually experience the Presence of Christ. Today's gospel is really an encouragement to continue to serve the Lord through serving others. It is an encouragement for our parents, particularly our Moms, whose days are spent in so many loving tasks and who are often many levels beyond tired. What you are doing is noble, and holy, and Christian.

You are giving yourself in service to people whom God loves, and whom you also love, your children. How many of our Dads are also tired, and worn out by work and the stress of providing for their families? Yet, there they are coaching, leading scouts, helping with homework, and looking for new ways to engage their children. Parents must have authority over their children for the home to function properly. Your sacrifice is how you achieve this authority. It is the Christian way. James and John had it all wrong. They wanted power, they wanted authority. Instead, Jesus called them to sacrifice and service. And when, after Pentecost, they sacrificed their lives for the sake of the Kingdom of God, they were, in fact, among the great gathered around Jesus' throne. It's the same for us. We sacrifice for others and the sacrificial love of the Lord gives us the authority to call ourselves Christian.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
29 Ordinary Time

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
29 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
29 Ordinary Time
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sometimes the Lectionary gives us readings that are a bit too short. Today's Gospel is ?an example of this tendency. In the actual Gospel, this passage about James and John asking for privileged places in the Kingdom is immediately preceded by a passage in which Jesus predicts his passion and death for the third time. It is unfortunate that it is omitted from the Gospel set before us today. If we were to first read this prediction of Jesus' imminent passion and death and only then the account of how James and John were jockeying for position we would find their squabble better contextualised and we would see things in a slightly different light. Without the prediction of the passion it seems just like a quarrel over position that any of us might get into.

But when we realise the context we see that the Apostles are blatantly ignoring the serious words of Jesus about his passion and death. They don't seem to be able to cope with what they perceive to be extremely negative ideas and instead they become preoccupied with their own ambitions. We are all familiar with this sort of displacement activity. We do it ourselves all the time. We find it hard to cope with certain serious issues and so we bury our head in the sand in the hope that the difficulties will simply go away. Of course, sometimes this strategy does actually work. After a time, things can fall into place and whatever threat faces us simply goes away. However, this is not always the case and sometimes our failure to face up to reality can make things much worse even than they were before. The Synoptic Gospels, that is Matthew, Mark and Luke, all have three predictions by Jesus of his passion and death.

The fact that they occur three times means that things are really serious, that Jesus is giving the Apostles the most severe of warnings as to what is going to happen to him. Even though he warns them of his suffering and death, in each case Jesus also tells them that he will rise again. However, in each case the Apostles are quite unable to understand what Jesus is saying and simply ignore his words. In one or two cases, they simply don't respond and the Evangelist moves the narrative forward passing swiftly on to an account of another incident in the life of Jesus. We might wonder why the Apostles found it so hard to react appropriately to these predictions. It may be that the Evangelists are highlighting the difference between the Apostles as they were pre-Pentecost and then post-Pentecost. Once the Holy Spirit has been poured out upon the Apostles they come to a much clearer understanding of what has happened as well as its significance for the world. Up to that point they are presented as dullards who do not really understand what Jesus is talking about. I remember hearing that Edward Elgar, the famous composer, recorded in a memoir that when he was in school and his class were having obvious difficulties with a particularly difficult topic the teacher said in exasperation, ?You are as stupid as the Apostles were before Pentecost.'

An interesting little sidelight here is that James and John ask Jesus to do them a favour before telling him what it is they want. This often happens in life. Someone will ask us for a favour but then once we have committed ourselves they usually ask for something rather banal. Here these two brothers ask for an absolute whopper; they want places either side of Jesus in his Kingdom. No wonder they wanted Jesus to commit himself before they actually made their impossible request. We should not ignore the extent of James' and John's ambition. They do not merely want to get to heaven, they want the very highest places in the Kingdom, they want to sit at the left and right of Jesus when he ascends to glory. Jesus takes them seriously and asks them if they can drink the cup that he is to drink. They blithely respond that they can, but they only respond like this because they have no conception of what Jesus really means.

When Jesus responds that they surely will drink the cup that he has to drink he is obviously referring to that fact that almost all the Apostles will die a martyr's death. The other disciples get indignant with James and John but we find ourselves thinking that they are indignant not so much because of Jesus' rebuke but because they did not think of asking the very same question for themselves. All the Apostles think like James and John, it is only that James and John were quicker off the mark than the others. Jesus follows this up with his remark that a true disciple must become the servant of all. He even uses the word slave in order to underline his point. By these words Jesus means that the life of a true disciple should be in complete contrast with the life that most other people live. In the world the great men lord it over others but in the Kingdom the greatest person is the one who serves others. A servant is employed and has periods when he is on duty but once his work is done he is a free man. However, a slave is owned and is at the total disposal of his master night and day.

A slave has no free time, he can only do what his master permits. To be a slave is to live with shame all of one's life. So for Jesus to tell us that we ought to become slaves is shocking indeed. However, we know that in the Kingdom of God things are turned upside down. Those who are great in the world's eyes are put to the bottom of the table while the lowly are raised to the best places. The Apostles still have to get used to this idea; it is not a concept that comes easily. I notice this same way of thinking in my own Religious Order. Certain members think that because they have served as religious for many years that means they should get perks or privileges that the younger ones don't get.

This is not the way that Jesus presents in the Gospel. For him it is humility and service that are the key values. We all live messy and inconsistent lives, we are not always able to live up to the strictures of the Gospel. According to me, though, it is not a question so much of following all the rules but adopting the right attitudes. Being a true disciple is about assuming a Gospel mindset. It is as much about a way of thinking as a way of doing. Living the Christian life is living in an upside-down world; it is about prizing attitudes that are completely contrary to those of the rest of the world. Like James and John, we have to come to the realisation that worldly ambition has absolutely no place in the life of an honest Christian. Like them we are slow learners, but at least we do know that true greatness is only to be found in the service of others.

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