29th Ordinary Sunday (Year B)
First Reading: Isaiah 53:10-11 Second Reading: Hebrews 4:14-16 Gospel Reading: Mark 10:35-45
“HE GAVE US ALL HE HAD, AND GAVE GLADLY.”
There is a story told of a wheat farmer who saved an entire village from destruction. From his hilltop farm he felt the earth quake and saw the distant ocean swiftly withdraw from the shore line. He knew that a tidal wave was coming. In the valley below, he saw his neighbors working low fields that would soon be flooded. They must run quickly to his hilltop or they would all die.
Now, his wheat barns were dry as tinder. So, with a torch he set fire to his barns and soon the fire bell started ringing. His neighbors saw the smoke and rushed to help him. Then from their safe perch they saw the tidal wave wash over the fields they had just left.
In a flash they knew not only who had saved them but what their salvation had cost their benefactor. They later erected a monument to his memory bearing the motto, “He gave us all he had, and gave gladly.” This poor farmer finished first in the eyes of his community, but it cost him everything he had.
There aren't many people in our world like that farmer. He willingly sacrificed himself that others might survive. Most people do everything they can to better themselves, and think nothing of the people they step on as they climb to the top of the heap. Today's Scripture Readings are designed to teach us the truth that not everyone who finishes first is victorious. Sometimes those who take the last seat, those who willingly finish last, are the real winners in the game of life.
In the Gospel passage of today from St. Mark's Gospel, we see selfish ambition in all of its ugliness. The two brothers, the sons of Zebedee - James and John come to Jesus asking for the top seats in his kingdom. In fact, they are literally asking for the three poison pills – 'Position, Prestige & Power.' And Jesus uses this event to teach his disciples and us all, some valuable lessons about leadership, service to others and forgiveness. Jesus responds by telling them that they have no idea what they are asking for. He confronts them by asking them if they are willing and able to experience all that he is about to endure. They tell him that they can. But these men do not understand what awaits Jesus. Their response reveals a complete lack of understanding concerning what Jesus is about to suffer and of the load he was sent to carry. Jesus is on his way to Calvary where he will bear the sins of his people on a Roman cross. He is about to experience the undiluted wrath of Almighty God against sin and sinners. Jesus then tells them that they may experience his anguish to a degree, but the positions in the kingdom would not be given out based on selfish ambition; rather, they will be given according to the will of the Sovereign God.
When the rest of the disciples heard about what John and James were up to, they became angry. Perhaps they were angry because these fellows were trying to promote themselves over the rest. Or, perhaps they were angry because James and John beat them to the draw and asked Jesus first. Whatever the reason, they were steamed! Their reaction to what James and John did is no better than the request James and John made. But Jesus doesn’t allow their anger to simmer. He addresses the issue at hand and calls their attention to the Gentile world around them. He lets them know that 'high seat seeking' is the way of the world. Those who rule in this world rise to the top by grabbing power and oppressing their opponents. We see that mentality all around us in the world today.
Jesus wants the disciples, and us too, to understand that God has a higher goal for his children. He wants us to know that the path to the top leads through the bottom. If one really wants to reach the top, he/she must start out at the bottom. If one really wants to be a leader, if one is looking for respect, then he/she must first learn how to serve. People respect those who serve them. Respect is earned, it is never demanded. Far too many people want to be recognized for the things they do. They want their pat on the back. They want to hear 'thank you', and 'good job.' They do what they do, because they want to be recognized - and they have their reward.
Jesus uses his impending sacrifice as the ultimate example of sacrificial service. He sets the pattern all of his people are commanded to follow - "I came not to be served, but to serve." Again, "Whoever would be great among you must be your servant." Service was his passion. Service was his life. The greatest example of that can be seen the night before he went to the cross, when he washed his disciples' feet and commanded them to do the same. If our God is willing to serve sinful humanity, we should be willing to serve as well. May that same passion grip our hearts! May we freely take the place of slaves and serve others for the glory of God alone!
The cost of service for Jesus was extremely high. It cost him his very life. Jesus willingly went to his death to save those who cared nothing for him. He suffered the shame, the pain, the humiliation, and the agony of the cross to serve lost sinners. He experienced the undiluted wrath of Almighty God to serve us. He took the place of a common criminal and was judged as rebel so that sinners could be saved. He willingly entered into death so that others might enter into life. So, looking at Jesus we can gratefully say, “He gave us all he had, and gave gladly.”
In the First Reading of today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Isaiah describes the Suffering Servant of God. This servant gives up his life "as an offering for sin." By doing so, he bears the guilt of others. God says of him, "My servant shall justify many." To justify others is to free them from blame or take away their guilt. We can easily understand why Christians see a portrait of Jesus Christ in this reading. He is the obedient servant who gave his life for our salvation. By his suffering, death, and rising, he leads us into fullness of days. “He gave us all he had, and gave gladly.”
In the Second Reading of today from the letter to the Hebrews, the Author says that Jesus is “the High Priest who has passed through heavens” and is mediator between God and man restoring all things to the Father. He offered himself as sacrifice on the altar of the Cross for the forgiveness of our sins and he intercedes for us always. Jesus in loving and serving us gave his all, even to the point of dying on the cross. “He gave us all he had, and gave gladly.”
Whenever temptation knocks on our doors, we have only to turn to Jesus. He will strengthen us to do what is right. Temptation is a familiar visitor for most of us. Sometimes we lock our doors and say 'Keep out!' Other times we let temptation 'in' and wind up acting against God's will. Jesus never said yes to temptation. He knows what it is like to be tempted, for he personally went through them. Therefore, he understands how hard it is for us to resist temptations to sins.
How did Jesus arrive at such an exalted place? Certainly, it isn’t because he is God! He is there because he took the place of a slave. He is there because he willingly chose the lowest place of all and God elevated him to the highest place of all. It is a paradox, but it is true nonetheless, for the Christian 'the way up is always down.' Is that the path we are walking? Are we being a servant of God by actively seeking ways to selflessly serve others? If the Lord has touched our hearts about our service, today would be a good day to enlist and to gratefully proclaim like the villagers in the opening story - “HE GAVE US ALL HE HAD, AND GAVE GLADLY.”