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OCTOBER 18, 2009: TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

Isaiah 53:10-11
Hebrews 4:14-16
Mark 10:35-45

Just as there’s a required reading list for most college courses, there’s a required reading for anyone who is serious about understanding today’s gospel pericope: Luke Timothy Johnson’s May 22, 2009 Commonweal article How Is the Bible True?

We’ve finally reached Mark’s third prediction of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection and its sequel. (The only problem: those who select our liturgical readings have left out the prediction!)

This time James and John are given the honor of grossly misunderstanding what it means to die with Jesus. Their request for the “glory seats” forces Jesus’ famous cut down, “You do not know what you are asking.” He eventually goes on to explain what Christian death is all about. He’s already gone through two preliminary stages of that death. In chapter 8, he taught that we must be open to whatever God asks of us. In chapter 9, he insisted we accept the most insignificant in our midst as the risen Jesus in our midst. Now in chapter 10 he pulls out all the stops.

But before we hear Jesus, let’s look at Johnson’s article. After discussing and dismissing the opinions of those who find biblical truth either in its faithfulness to what actually happened 3,200 or 2,000 years ago, or in the accuracy of its predictions about “things to come,” he states his thesis. Biblical truth is found”... when we begin to imagine the world Scripture itself imagines . . .; when we ask what is the shape of that world and its rules and how we might embody it. . .; when we are willing to ask not only whether Scripture imagines a true world, but whether we ourselves read truly, and as readers act in the truth. . . . To read the Bible truly we must be in the process of being transformed by the world that Scripture imagines; to speak truly about Jesus, one must be in the process of being transformed by his image.”

What a world and what an image we find in today’s gospel passage. “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.”

The world in which the historical Jesus lived certainly wasn’t the world of his vision. Pointing out the obvious, he states, “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.” He then gives one of Scripture’s most forceful warnings, “It shall not be so among you!”

Everyone knows it has been “so” among us. Rarely do we find leadership as Jesus describes - even 2,000 years after he mandated it for his followers.

Our Hebrews author won’t let us use the excuse, “But Jesus is God; we’re not.” He reminds us, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who has been similarly tested in every way, yet without sin.”

Jesus never thought he’d be the only person in history to have followed Deutero-Isaiah’s example and “justified many” by agreeing to suffer for others. He expected his followers to do the same.

Last time I checked, some of us are still called Christians - other Christs. Following Johnson’s insight, we’re people “in the process of being transformed into his image.” Let the process begin!