Fr. Patrick Fitzgerald-Lombard, O.Carm., is parish priest of the parish of St. Thomas of Canterbury, Mayfield, Sussex. He is a member of the Aylesford Community. Today, Fr. Patrick is reflecting on the readings from yesterday's Mass. Please read Fr Patrick's introduction and please re-look at the readings before continuing (these will open in a separate window for ease of reading):
“For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many”. This Sunday’s Gospel ends with one of the great sayings of the Gospel of Mark, the climax to the journey known as the way in this Gospel. After this, there is just a brief encounter in Jericho and then it is all the way up to Jerusalem where this saying will be played out.
There is though a surprise with the Gospel this Sunday because for some reason the third prediction by Jesus of his destiny has been omitted. As I have noted before, I don’t use the traditional expression “passion prediction” because these predictions all end with the resurrection. This third prediction which comes between the Gospels for last Sunday and this, is the most detailed and therefore important. Leaving this out unbalances this Sunday’s Gospel because the dispute about the future status of the disciples arises from the reminder about Jesus’ fate.
The prediction begins by saying for the first time that the way leads to Jerusalem. This begins another stage of teaching. We are told Jesus is walking ahead whilst his followers are behind and afraid. Jesus is moving towards his fate, his followers not surprisingly are apprehensive. Jesus then gives a summary of his passion with much more detail than the first two predictions. Then he says that after three days he will rise again.
With the prediction, we need now to see the flow through the Gospel as it builds up to the consequence of this prediction announced in the final saying. The unity and continuity of the passage are important. Thus it begins with the prediction as the premise and concludes with the saying that fulfils the premise. In between, Jesus’ teaching builds up to that final saying. After the prediction, we have the remarkable scene in which James and John, two of Jesus’ closest disciples, ask for places at the top table in heaven. Both the previous predictions have led to misunderstandings by the disciples. This one is similar to the one that followed the second prediction, read on the 25th Sunday but goes further with the request of the two disciples. So crass is this request that is softened in Matthew where their mother makes the request on their behalf. Getting it wrong, badly wrong sets the scene. The two disciples want glory but they and the other ten as well as ourselves have to learn that there are no short cuts to glory.
Jesus therefore has to spell it out for them, though notably he does not rebuke them. Instead he gives a straight challenging reply to their request. The disciples already know about the cup Jesus must drink, they have now heard him predict his destiny three times. And they now confidently, rashly perhaps, accept that they too must drink the same cup. By the time the Gospel was written they may well have done so already. The message coming across is one familiar not only in this Gospel but across the New Testament. Earlier, Peter stated that Jesus is the Christ only for him to reject the suffering involved. That was followed by the Transfiguration of Jesus providing a foretaste of his glory. St Paul makes the point clear a number of times: we must share his sufferings if we are to share his glory. Soon Jesus will be enthroned, but on a cross while to left and right there will be a thief. The cross will reveal that in suffering there is glory, it is there that Jesus after dying is recognised as Son of God by the gentile soldier.
Jesus therefore follows up his response to James and John with his teaching about service, especially as the other ten are of similar mind to the two brothers. Jesus now underlines his understanding of true authority.
The nature of the powers of this world are well summarised as "lording it over them" and are "tyrants". That would have been common experience for those living under the Romans and the Herodians. The contrast is then made. The parallel this time is "servant" with "slave" which could hardly make the point more strongly. A servant has some choice in serving well but a slave has no choice. The needs of others come first among the disciples of Jesus.
Finally, it comes to a climax as Jesus as the Son of Man gives himself as an example. The Son of Man in the book of Daniel comes with power and splendour. That is a contrast with the Son of Man in this verse where Jesus is picking up from the servant song of Isaiah which is the Old Testament reading this Sunday and where we are told that by his suffering the servant will justify many. "Many" in both Isaiah and in Mark is inclusive, effectively it does mean"all". There is the contrast between the one who died and the many who are redeemed. "For" here means "on behalf of"
"Ransom" meant to redeem a pledge or free a slave. It is a commercial term used as a metaphor. It is going too far as some Christian tradition has done to ask questions about exactly who is being paid. (Think of something going wrong and saying "I paid the price" for my behaviour. We don't ask to whom we are paying the price.) Instead, we have to see with St Paul that the Father himself reconciled us to himself in Christ. The death of Jesus on the cross is to be seen as his supreme act of service and loving obedience to his Father, his fulfilment of his destiny as outlined at the beginning of the passage. The Father then accepted his sacrifice by raising Jesus from the dead.
Both the reading from Isaiah and from the letter to the Hebrews are notable because they come from the readings for Good Friday. The reading from letter to the Hebrews, which is also read on Good Friday, makes its contribution because it introduces Jesus as our great high priest. He is fully human, the one who suffered and was tempted in every way that we are but did not sin. He is also fully divine and being both human and divine uniquely qualified Jesus to be mediator and reconciler between God and humanity, the role of the priest.