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Breath of the Spirit

Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.

Breath of the Spirit is our electronic spiritual and liturgical resource for our members and potential members. Nothing can replace your chapter or other faith community but we hope you will find further support here for integrating your spirituality with your sexuality and all the strands of your life.

In Jesus’ ideal community, the persons who serve others are more important than the people who are served.



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

It’s been over a month since we’ve heard the second of Mark’s three predictions of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. Finally, we have the third. Following the same pattern of the previous two, it begins with the prediction - which for some reason has been omitted in today’s liturgical reading – then is quickly followed by a misunderstanding of what it means to die, then concludes with Jesus clarifying the issue.

In chapter 8, it’s Peter who has a problem dying with Jesus; the Twelve follow suite in chapter 9. Here, in chapter 10, the honor goes to James and John. Totally missing Jesus’ point about first dying then rising, the brothers foolishly ask to be given the “glory seats” when he comes into his glory.

Mark’s Jesus initially cuts them down by simply replying, “You do not know what you are asking . . . .” But then, when the other ten “become indignant” at the brothers’ request, he clarifies what dying with him actually entails. In the first prediction/misunderstanding/clarification pericope, dying revolved around being open to whatever God asks of us; in the second, accepting even the community’s most insignificant members as being important. Here, in the third, he takes us our dying one step further.

“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.” Then he outlines his dream of an authority structure which completely turns all other such structures upside-down.

“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.” In Jesus’ ideal community, the persons who serve others are more important than the people who are served.

We must always remember that there were “real” slaves during the historical Jesus and the evangelist’s day and age. What we today regard as symbolic or metaphorical language was looked at quite differently 2,000 years ago. Slaves back then were expected to give themselves totally over to their masters. Their lives revolved around being at the beck and call of others. Jesus not only demands the same of his followers, he even goes beyond that by mentioning that he regards himself as a “ransom” for many.

When I ask my students, “What’s a ransom worth?” they normally respond, “Whatever the person being ransomed is worth.” I presume a kidnapper would expect to get more for Pope Francis than for the pastor of Renault. That means that Jesus – and his imitators – gauge their value by the value of those they serve. If we’re important, it’s only because we serve important people.

The prophet Deutero-Isaiah seems to have been the first biblical person to come up with this idea of “vicarious suffering:” the belief that one person can suffer for another. His disciples, in today’s Fourth Song of the Suffering Servant, reflect on that phenomenon. “. . . Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt shall he bear.”

It’s not clear how such vicarious suffering works, but as we hear in our Hebrew’s pericope, some of Jesus’ earliest disciples regarded his death and resurrection as exemplifying such an action. Just as the Jewish high priest offered sacrifices for the people, so Jesus – one of us – offered himself for us. As Deutero-Isaiah’s followers expressed it, “By his wounds we’re healed.”

Jesus, like the prophet, had more than the smell of the sheep on him. He actually took on their sins. There’s no way we can more deeply serve others.




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