The Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 17, 2021 Cycle B
by Rev. Jose Maria de Sousa Alvin Calado Cortes, F.S.C.B., Chaplain,
Saint John Paul II National Shrine
Sunday Reading Meditations
“The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:43-45).
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that the path for the fulfillment of life consists in self-giving. In the second reading, the prophet Isaiah says: “Because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days” (Is 53:11).
There is a quote from Gaudium et Spes, a document from the Second Vatican Council, that Saint John Paul II loved very much: “Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (Gaudium et Spes 24). Jesus presents himself as an example for us to follow. He gave us his body and blood so that we could offer ourselves to others in unconditional love.
John and James’ request for a special place in Jesus’ kingdom and the other apostles’ indignation toward the two brothers show how worldly the Twelve were. They completely misunderstood Jesus’ proposal.
There are two mutually contradictory logics here. The apostles represent the logic of taking, while Jesus represents the logic of giving. The apostles are thinking about power, while Jesus is thinking about service. There are two different ways of thinking about how to be first. Jesus does not censure the desire to be great or first. He says: “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all” (Mk 10:45). Jesus was not opposed to the apostles’ desire for greatness but to how they were trying to achieve it. We achieve fullness through humble service and not through prideful self-affirmation.
The desire for greatness through power is very common. The successful and powerful are admired by society.
To give ourselves to others is not merely a matter of being generous. Many people become tired of being generous at a certain point. If they feel empty and disillusioned after doing a lot of things, trying to save the world and giving their time and talent, it is because what they were doing, however noble and great, was ultimately prideful action. They were only giving but not receiving. We cannot give if we do not receive. Many vocations to the priesthood, religious life and marriage fail for this reason.
We are wounded people. Original sin prevents us from giving ourselves in a pure way. Even when we think we are giving, we are actually taking. Many times people do good things for the sake of recognition. However, that is not enough and sooner or later their enthusiasm will fade away. Nevertheless, there is hope. In the second reading, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews says: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb 4:15). If we place our trust in the Lord, he comes to our aid. We should pray the refrain of today’s responsorial psalm: “Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.”
Total self-giving is who God is. We are invited to participate in this dynamic of being. We need to connect with the source of giving. We cannot give without receiving. Christian life is not a matter of doing but of being. What we do is a manifestation of what we are. How can we give ourselves if we do not understand that we are given by God?
One day last week, when I was saying Mass, the words of the consecration surprised me in a particular way. Jesus says: “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body, which will be given up for you.” Jesus gives us his body so that we can give ourselves to others. In the Eucharist, we receive the gift that allows us to become a gift. For this reason, we accept the invitation of today’s second reading: “So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help” (Heb 4:16).
“The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Let us pray that the experience of receiving everything from God may help us find ourselves through the sincere giving of our lives. Amen.