One-page summary of OT XXIX [B] (Oct 21): Mk 10:35-45 (L-18)
Central theme: Today’s Scripture readings describe leadership as the sacrificial service done for others and offer Jesus as the best example. They also explain the servant leadership of Jesus, pinpointing service and sacrifice as the criteria of greatness in Christ’s Kingdom.
Scripture lessons summarized: The first reading is a Messianic prophecy taken from the Fourth Servant Song in the second part of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It tells how the promised Messiah will save mankind by sacrificing himself as the atonement for our sins. Jesus has done this sacrificial service of love for us as the Suffering Servant by giving his life on the cross as an offering for sin, interceding for us and taking our punishment on himself. The second reading, taken from the letter to the Hebrews, tells us that, as a God-man and mediator-High Priest, Jesus has offered a fitting sacrifice to God his Father by offering himself as ransom to liberate us from the slavery of sin. In the time of Jesus, ransom was the price paid to free someone from slavery. Sometimes the ransomer offered himself as a substitute for the slave, as Jesus did. The reading also speaks of a high priest who is able to sympathize with us in our weakness because he has been tested in every way, though sinless, and so we can “confidently” hope for God’s mercy. Today’s Gospel explains how Jesus has accomplished his mission of saving mankind from the slavery of sin by becoming the “Suffering Servant.” In the context of the selfish request made by James and John for key positions in the Messianic political kingdom Jesus would establish after overthrowing the roman rule, Jesus challenges his followers to become great by serving others with sacrificial agape love: “Whoever wishes to be great must be a servant.” Jesus commands us to liberate others as he has freed all of us, by giving ourselves to them in loving and humble service.
Life Messages: 1) We are challenged to give our lives in loving service to others. As Christians, we are all invited to serve others – and to serve with a smile! We are challenged to drink the cup of Jesus by laying down our lives in humble, sacrificial service for others, just as Jesus did. The best place to begin the process of service by “self-giving,” is in our own homes and workplaces. When parents sacrifice their time, talents, health and blessings for the welfare of others in the family, they are serving God. Service always involves suffering, because we can’t help another without some sacrifice on our part. We are rendering great service to others also when we present them and their needs before God daily in our prayers.
2) We are invited to servant leadership: In order to become an effective Christian community, we need lay leaders with the courage of Christian convictions to work for social justice. We need spiritual leaders who can break open the word for us, lead us in our prayer, offer us on the altar, and draw us together as sacrament.
OT XXIX SUNDAY (Oct 21): Is 53:10-11; Heb 4:14-16; Mk 10:35-45
Homily starter anecdotes: #1: “Sir, I am a Corporal!” During the American Revolution, a man in civilian clothes rode past a group of soldiers who were busy pulling out a horse carriage stuck in deep mud. Their officer was shouting instructions to them while making no attempt to help. The stranger who witnessed the scene asked the officer why he wasn’t helping. With great anger and dignity, the officer replied, “Sir, I am a Corporal!” The stranger dismounted from his horse and proceeded to help the exhausted soldiers himself. When the job was completed, he turned to the corporal and said, “Mr. Corporal, next time you have a job like this, and don’t have enough men to do it, inform your commander-in-chief, and I will come and help you again.” Too late, the proud Corporal recognized General Washington. Washington understood that those who aspire to greatness or rank first among others must serve the needs of all. America’s first president found himself in a situation that invited him to demonstrate servant leadership. Where did Washington learn such leadership skills? I have no doubt he learned them here, in these words of Jesus: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” The young corporal had these words modeled for him by the man at the top. Jesus’ disciples, likewise, receive from their leader a picture of servanthood.
# 32: True Greatness: Nobel prizes are awarded every year in literature, economics and science, among others. People who have made outstanding contributions in these fields are given due recognition for their achieved greatness. Excellence is recognized in the sports world, too. For example, when Pete Rose surpassed Ty Cobb’s record number of hits in 1985, he assured himself a place in baseball’s Hall of Fame. We all aspire to greatness in some form or another. It is a desire which our Lord addresses in today’s Gospel. But if we look deeper into enduring examples of greatness, we see that the Lord is right. Alexander the Great was a remarkable leader because he stood by his men in battle. Albert the Great was an intellectual giant because he disciplined himself for study. Beethoven was a master composer because he struggled long hours to get the right note. (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds; quoted by Fr. Botelho.)
#3: “I discovered that Service is Joy”: It may sound unbelievable, but it is true that Asia’s first Nobel Prize winner in Literature (1913), Rabindranath Tagore, was behind the three great national anthems of three nations, viz. Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka. He was also the first non-Westerner to win the Nobel Prize in literature. He did so in 1913. He wrote this short poem:
I slept and dreamt that life was Joy;
Then I awoke and realized
that life was Service.
And then I went to work – and, lo
and behold, I discovered that
Service is Joy.
Today’s Gospel teaches us that true happiness comes from surrendering ourselves completely in humble service to God through Christ. And all we need is a servant’s heart, mind, eyes and touch. So, “How’s Your Serve?”
Introduction: Today’s Scripture readings describe leadership as the service of others and offer Jesus as the best example. They explain the servant leadership of Jesus, pinpointing service and sacrifice as the criteria of greatness in Christ’s Kingdom.
Scripture lessons summarized: The first reading is a messianic prophecy taken from the Fourth Servant Song in the second part of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. The Servant of the first reading intercedes with God for the people, taking upon himself their wrongdoings and accepting the punishment their sins have incurred. This passage speaks of the servant as giving “his life as an offering for sin.” The prophecy was realized in Jesus who lived and died for others. Out of love, Jesus, the servant, lived and died so that the unjust might know God’s justification. The second reading, taken from the letter to the Hebrews, notes that Jesus responded to the call of his Father and became the mediator or priest for the people. The reading speaks of a High Priest who is able to sympathize with us in our weakness because he has been tested in every way, though sinless, and so we can “confidently” hope for God’s mercy. Today’s Gospel lesson explains how Jesus accomplished his mission of saving mankind by becoming the “Suffering Servant” and challenging his followers to become great by serving others: “Whoever wishes to be great must be a servant.” In the time of Jesus, ransom was the price paid to free someone from slavery. Sometimes the ransomer offered himself as a substitute for the slave. Jesus’ death on the cross was just such a liberating offering made for mankind. The “slavery” mandated by Jesus is a loving service of liberation for others.
First reading, Isaiah 53:10-11, explained: The first reading about the “Suffering Servant” prepares us to hear today’s Gospel teaching (Mark 10:35-45), on ambition versus humility. Jesus predicts, for the third time, that he is going to accomplish his mission by suffering, dying and rising. The concluding words of Jesus in today’s Gospel, about giving his life as a ransom for many, refer to the Messianic prophecy of the prophet Isaiah. This reading forms part of one of the famous four passages from the second part of Isaiah known as the Songs of the Suffering Servant, in which Jesus sees aspects of his life and mission foreshadowed. In Isaiah, the Suffering Servant probably refers to a single individual, or to the remnant of the faithful within Israel, or to some other religious reformer who will bring about peace and restoration. Isaiah speaks of God crushing the Suffering Servant (Jesus) with suffering. “By his sufferings shall My servant justify many.” We are invited to see the death of Jesus as the fulfillment of this passage because Jesus offers His life as a willing sacrifice which for our sins, making us righteous by taking our sins away. Out of love, Jesus the servant lives and dies so that the unjust may know God’s justification. The passage also gives us the assurance that if we work for righteousness, we will be able to receive the loving care of our Father, God, who will never abandon us.
Second Reading, Hebrews 4:14-16, explained: The Letter to the Hebrews was written to bolster the Faith of Jewish converts to Christianity. They suffered the contempt of former Jewish friends who had not been converted, and they felt nostalgia for the institutions of Judaism, such as rituals, sacrifices, the priesthood etc. This letter tries to show them how they still have all these “missing” things, and in a better form in Christianity than they had them in Judaism. While the first reading from Isaiah prophesies the necessary and sacrificial role of God’s servant, Jesus, in the plan of salvation, the author of Hebrews affirms Jesus’ priestly activity. Since the Jewish converts to Christ did not have the priests they were used to, the author of Hebrews argues that Jesus is the true High Priest, superior to and far better than the Jewish priests because He, the Son of God, shares our fragile, suffering humanity. Thus, we can “approach his throne of grace confidently to receive mercy,” because Jesus understands us. Later, in Heb 9:10-14, St. Paul presents Jesus as both sacrificial victim and priest. In his death and Resurrection, Jesus functions both as the Priest who sacrifices the victim and as the Victim who is sacrificed.
Gospel exegesis: The context: Our Gospel reading for today is another classic text on the question of ambition. For the third time, (Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:32), Jesus predicts his own death. In spite of Jesus’ two previous predictions, James and John are still thinking of Jesus as a revolutionary freedom-fighter. They share their contemporaries’ Jewish belief that the Messiah will be a political king, sitting on David’s throne and ruling over a re-united Israel. They are sure that the purpose of Jesus’ final trip to Jerusalem is to overthrow the Roman rulers. Hence, they want an assurance from Jesus that he will make them his first- and second-in-command in his messianic kingdom. According to Middle Eastern custom, the seats on the right and left sides of the host were the places of honor, granted to his closest friends and associates, or those he wished particularly to recognize.
The high price of servant leadership: The request of James and John reveals their lack of understanding of true leadership. They are looking for positions of power and prestige. They think that leadership comes from where you sit rather than from how you serve. Jesus gives them a sharp rebuke, saying, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They answer Jesus’ question with a very quick, “You bet we can!” That’s the kind of answer you give when you envision the ‘cup’ in question to be a bejeweled golden goblet filled with good wine at the feast of Jesus’ inauguration as the replacement for the Caesar.” (Center for Excellence in Preaching; online). “The request of James and John for a share in the glory (Mark 10:35-37) must of necessity involve a share in Jesus’ sufferings, the endurance of tribulation and suffering for the Gospel” (Notes to the New American Bible). The cup was a symbol of the life experience allotted to each person by God. To “drink the cup” Jesus drinks is to accept the reality of suffering and to do God’s will in the midst of it, as Jesus did in Gethsemane and on Calvary. Those who follow the way of Jesus and seek to imitate his example of servant leadership must be willing even to suffer for others. During royal banquets, it was customary for an ancient king to hand the cup to his guests. Thus, the cup became a metaphor for the life and experiences that God gives to men. Jesus insisted that his disciples must drink from his cup if they expected to reign with him in his kingdom. The cup he had in mind was a bitter one, involving crucifixion. For Jesus, to take this cup was to take on himself God’s judgment intended for us. Baptism was also linked to the divine judgment that will come as a result of human sinfulness. Jesus had in mind the cup of his own sacrificial death and the baptism of fire which lay before him in Jerusalem.
Trouble-shooting: Without fully understanding what Jesus meant, James and John quickly affirmed that they could share in their master’s cup and baptism. They had no understanding of the personal cost that lay behind these two images. [History tells us that James was beheaded by Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:2), and John suffered deeply when he heard regularly for years, of the persecution of his fellow Christians, while he himself was forced into exile.] Naturally, the request of James and John angered the other disciples. They were upset that James and John had tried to gain some advantage over them. So, Jesus called them all together to give them yet another lecture on real leadership in the kingdom of God. Jesus further explains that to sit on his right hand and on his left is not his to give, except to those for whom it is prepared by his Father. The passage thus declares that “Christ would give rewards to his followers; but only to such as should be entitled to them according to the purpose of his Father.” (Notes on the New Testament)
A challenge to achieve greatness through humble, sacrificial service: Jesus tells his disciples plainly what his mission is, how he is going to accomplish it and what should be the criteria of greatness among his disciples. He summarizes his mission in one sentence: “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” It is in service and humility, Jesus says, that one will find true greatness in the eyes of God. Jesus also explains that he is going to accomplish his mission by undergoing crucifixion, offering himself as a sacrifice to save people from their sins. Here, he challenges his apostles to share not only his power, but his service, by sacrificing themselves for others as he will do. According to Jesus, greatness consists not in what we have, nor in what we can get from others but in what we give to others. The CEO in Jesus’ kingdom is the one who serves the needs of all the others. The test of greatness in the reign of God is not how many people are in my service but how I may serve the many. Jesus thus overturns all our values, teaching us that true greatness consists in loving, humble, and sacrificial service. He has identified authority with selfless service and loving sacrifice. For Jesus, true service means putting our gifts at the disposal of others. Service is sacrifice: extending a helping hand to those in need translates love into meaningful deeds. Jesus clearly teaches that when power and authority are used in selfish ways, for personal gain, pleasure or advantage, instead of on behalf of others, they cease to be Christian, and become “like the leaders of the Gentiles.” St. Paul, in Rom 1:1, says: “From Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus.” No wonder the official title of the popes down through the centuries has been, “Servant of the servants of God”! For our contemporary, St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa), greatness lay in the giving of her whole self to the very lowest, treating them as brothers and sisters and living close to them.
Authority exercised by sacrificial service: Very often, people in authority act as if others exist only to serve them. Even in our democratic form of government, our elected officials, although called “public servants,” frequently strut around like monarchs, interested in serving their own appetites for power, prestige, and wealth. They forget the fact that authority is different from power. Power is something a person has and forces on people. Authority is something one first receives from a higher power (ultimately God Who is the Source of Authority). That authority is recognized in one by the people who choose, receive and obey one as their Leader. One can exercise authority over those one leads only through service and sacrifice, for this is God’s own pattern, shown in Christ Jesus. When people see that a person has their best interests at heart and is willing to sacrifice and serve them, they will be willing to follow. That’s real leadership and authority. Jesus sees authority as an opportunity to serve others rather than to promote his own honor and glory. Jesus connects authority with selfless service. He considers authority exercised without sacrificial love as merely self-service.
Life messages: 1) We are challenged to give our lives in loving service to others. To become an authentic disciple of Jesus means to put ourselves in the humble, demanding role of servant to others, to seek intentionally the happiness and fulfillment of those we love regardless of the cost to ourselves. The best place to begin the process of “self-giving” service is in our own homes and in the workplace. We have to look upon our education, training, and experience as preparation for service to others. Whatever may be our place in society — whether important or unimportant — we can serve. We should learn to serve with a smile. This is possible whether we are in military service, social service, law, medical service, government or business. We get chances to serve others every day- nurses serve their patients, teachers their students, parents serve the needs of their children, and spouses serve each another. In our parishes, we are also called to serve not to be served. We can here apply the famous “ask not” of John Kennedy: “Ask not what your parish, what your Church, your God can do for you; rather ask what you can do for your parish, for your Church, your God!” If we want to be leaders, we must learn to be available, accountable, and vulnerable. This triad — availability, accountability, and vulnerability — qualifies us for what Robert Greenleaf has called Servant Leadership. “Life becomes harder for us when we live for others, but it also becomes richer and happier.” —Albert Schweitzer
2) We serve by suffering: In today’s Gospel, Jesus connects service with suffering. Suffering and service go hand in hand. First, service always involves suffering because one can’t help another without some personal sacrifice. Second, God always invites those who suffer to put their suffering at the service of others by uniting it with the salvific suffering of Jesus. Third, we must learn to be sensitive to the suffering of those around us. One way to cultivate this sensitivity is to focus on the needs of others rather than on our own needs. Another way is through prayer, as explained in St. Francis of Assisi’s famous Prayer for Peace.
3) We are invited to drink from the cup of Christ’s suffering: People often tailor their religious beliefs to fit their own needs. In Christianity, this represents a false approach. The Church needs true disciples who are cross-bearers and servants. They seek and follow Christ wherever he leads. A happy family is the result of true sacrifice and humble service. The husband and wife sacrifice convenience, comfort, and time. There can be no success without sacrifice. We are challenged to drink the cup of Jesus by laying down our lives in humble and sacrificial service for others, just as Jesus did.
4) We are invited to servant leadership: We are a community of equals and we share in the responsibilities of being community. In order to be effective, we need leaders – both ordained, as ministerial priests, and lay. These servants have been raised up from among us to call us to order, to be the ground on which the rest of us can move around, refining our lives as followers of Jesus. We need leaders who will help us to form a relationship with God and with each other that will assist us to become what we must be in order to wash one another’s feet. We require leaders to call us to the ways of social justice. We need leaders who tie us to other communities and groups who share similar values. Finally, we need leaders who can break open the word for us, who can lead us in our prayer, offering us on the altar, and who can draw us together as sacrament. No one of us possesses all that we as a community need. Our job as servant leaders is to evoke, to recognize, to nurture, to celebrate and to help unify the gifts of the Holy Spirit at work here in our community.
JOKE OF THE WEEK: #1: Support your senator doing free service: A priest went into a Washington, D. C. barber shop for a haircut. When the barber finished, the priest asked him what the charge was and the barber responded, “No charge, Father, you are serving the Lord and I consider my service rendered to you as a service to the Lord.” The next morning when the barber arrived at his shop he found at his front door a stack of usable Christmas cards and a note of thanks from the priest. A few days later, a police officer went to the same barber for a haircut. When he went to pay, the barber said, “No charge, officer. I consider it a service to our community because you serve our community.” The next morning when the barber arrived at his shop there were a dozen donuts at the front door and a note of thanks from the policeman. A few days after this an influential senator came in for a haircut. “No charge, Senator, I consider it a service to my country.” The next morning when the barber arrived at his shop there were two congressmen waiting for their chance for the barber’s free service, carrying a note of thanks from the Senator!
# 2: Good old days: George Bernard Shaw was once asked in what generation he would have preferred to live. The witty Irishman replied: “The age of Napoleon, because then there was only one man who thought he was Napoleon.
USEFUL WEBSITES OF THE WEEK
1) Catholic Radio: http://www.catholicradiointernational.com/index.php
2) EWTN radio: http://www.ewtn.com/audiovideo/index.asp
4) Theological Resources: http://www.diocs.org/Faith/index.cfm
27- Additional anecdotes: 1) NBA superstar on service: Nearly a decade after leaving professional basketball, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar decided to return to the sport he loved, by accepting a coaching position with the Alchesay Falcons – a high-school team of mostly White Mountain Apaches. As an African-American among Native Americans, Abdul-Jabbar had a great deal to learn about these people. He discovered surprising cultural traditions that made it difficult for him to coach them, such as the Indian discomfort at being singled out for criticism as well as their extreme sensitivity. By working with these people, however, and sacrificing his time and talents, Abdul-Jabbar learned to appreciate them and form them into a super team. He did not try to lord it over them as an NBA superstar. Instead, he served them. In the end, he may have learned more than he actually taught. He became a good example of servant leadership.
2) Servant leader in a serving community: In his book, Dr. George Burns’ Prescription For Happiness: Buy Two Books and Call Me in the Morning, George Burns writes: “If you were to go around asking people what would make them happier, you’d get answers like a new car, a bigger house, a raise in pay, winning a lottery, a face-lift, more kids, less kids, a new restaurant to go to. Probably not one in a hundred would say a chance to help people. And yet that may bring the most happiness of all. I don’t know Dr. Jonas Salk, but after what he’s done for us with his polio vaccine, if he isn’t happy, he should have that brilliant head of his examined. Of course, not all of us can do what he did. I know I can’t do what he did; he beat me to it. But the point is, it doesn’t have to be anything that extraordinary. It can be working for a worthy cause, performing a needed service, or just doing something that helps another person.” [George Burns, Dr. George Burns’ Prescription for Happiness, (New York, NY, USA: Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 1984), p. 141] We need lots of people like those George Burns was describing — Dr. Salk and others like him who saw a need and tried to fill it. They were living a servant life. In our passage of Scripture for today, we find James and John wanting to race ahead of the others and jump into prime positions in the kingdom of God. But Jesus saw through their little ploy
3) Methodist & Baptist “servant-leader politics”: A Methodist pastor once wrote about power and politics in his denomination. Methodist preachers, he notes, are under the care of a bishop. Bishops, in turn, are Methodist preachers who are elected by fellow Methodist preachers after an extensive campaign for the office in which the candidate tries not to be caught campaigning. As he observes, “It is a long-standing Methodist tradition that bishops must not appear to have sought their office and, once elected, the new bishop must make a public declaration, saying, ‘I didn’t seek this office, and I didn’t want it but, once the Lord calls….'” Methodist preachers take all of this with a grain of salt, the same way Baptist congregations have learned to be somewhat skeptical when one of their preachers moves on to a better Church claiming, “I hate to leave this Church and I would rather stay here, but the Lord calls.” Baptists note that the Lord rarely calls someone out of one Church into another Church unless that Church has a higher salary. Methodists have likewise noted that there have been few preachers who, once they are elected bishop, turn the job down. [William H. Willimon, And the Laugh Shall Be First (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1986), p. 94] Also found in William G. Carter, No Box Seats in the Kingdom, CSS Publishing, with this ending: “Teacher, we want you to put us on your right and on your left. But keep it quiet. Don’t make it too obvious. Others may become offended that we asked first.” By telling us this story, Mark knows what you and I know: we are prone to the same desire for privilege and protected status. We want a Jesus who will give us what we want, a Lord who can shower a little power on us, a Savior who can make us better than we are. (Fr. Kayala).
4) “Here comes the man God sent us.” When Doug Meland and his wife moved into a village of Brazil’s Fulnio Indians, he was referred to as “the white man,” an uncomplimentary term. Other white men had exploited the villagers, burned their homes, and robbed their lands. But after the missionaries learned the language and began to help people with medicine and in other ways, they began to call Doug, “the good white man.” And when the Melands began adopting the customs of the people, the Fulnio spoke of Doug as the “white Indian.” Then one day, as Doug was washing the dirty, blood-caked foot of an injured boy, he heard a bystander say, “Who ever heard of a white man washing an Indian’s foot? Certainly this man is from God.” From that day, whenever Doug entered an Indian home, it would be announced, “Here comes the man God sent us.” [Stephen Olford, Committed to Christ and His Church (1991, Paperback).] That’s the secret of greatness: Service. That’s also the chief characteristic of those who follow Jesus. “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10: 45; Matthew 20: 28).
5) “Landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” In their influential book, Built to Last, James Collins and Jerry Porras coined the term BHAG (pronounced “bee-hag”). BHAG describes a bold, well-nigh impossible vision. BHAG stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal, B-H-A-G. Common sense would tell you that a BHAG would intimidate many people and discourage them from trying. But BHAGs are paradoxical, according to Collins and Porras. The idea of attempting the impossible is so exciting and energizing that organizations usually experience an upsurge of motivation when a leader presents a BHAG to his people. A great example of a BHAG is the vision announced by President John F. Kennedy in a speech on May 25, 1961: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.” [Linda Watkins, God Just Showed Up (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 2001), pp. 127-136.] JFK was challenging our country to put a man on the moon, and we did! Jesus was trying to get his disciples to forget their petty power games for a moment and focus on the Biggest, Hairiest, Most Audacious Goal of all–to join with him in redeeming this world.
6) “Then there was only one man who thought he was Napoleon.” George Bernard Shaw, the famous author, was once asked in what generation he would have preferred to live. The witty Irishman replied: “The age of Napoleon, because then there was only one man who thought he was Napoleon.” What James and John are asking for is nothing less than the power to command the army of Israel. Rabbis and scholars at the time taught that the Messiah when he came would be the new David, King of Israel. He would rule with a mighty sword and vanquish all of Israel’s enemies. The disciples were under the same impression.
7) “I want to compete with IBM.” When Michael Dell was in college, his parents drove up for a surprise visit. They were concerned that Michael’s “hobby”–building computers in his dorm room–was distracting him from his studies. His father demanded that he get more serious about his college work, asking Michael, “What do you want to do with your life?” And the young college student infuriated his dad by replying, “I want to compete with IBM.” At the time, IBM was the dominant computer company in the world. Not long after that, Michael Dell dropped out of college and raised the capital to start his own computer business. By 1999, ten years after Michael Dell began his company, Dell Computers overtook IBM as the nation’s largest seller of personal computers. [John Eliot, Ph.D., Overachievement (New York: Portfolio, 2004), pp. 38-40.] If you’re going to dream, why not dream big? It’s true. Our dreams are too small. That was the problem with James and John in today’s Gospel.
8) “Neither of us got our wish.” : Dwight David Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States says that when he was a small boy in Kansas, he went fishing with a friend of his. Young Eisenhower confided to his friend that his dream was to be a major league baseball player one day. Interestingly, Eisenhower’s friend said that his dream was to be President of the United States. Eisenhower said wistfully, “Neither of us got our wish.” (Play Ball, Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing.)
9) Determined Dreamer: In 1976, motivational speaker Steve Chandler interviewed an aspiring young actor named Arnold Swarzenegger. Swarzenegger was promoting his first film. “Now that you have retired from body-building,” Chandler asked him, “what are you going to do next?” With a calm voice, Arnold Swarzenegger said, “I’m going to be the No. 1 box office star in all of Hollywood.” Chandler said he tried not to show his amusement. Swarzenegger’s first attempt at movies hadn’t shown much promise, and his Austrian accent and monstrous build didn’t suggest instant acceptance by audiences. “It’s the same process I used in body-building.” Schwarzenegger went on to explain. “What you do is create a vision of who you want to be, and then live into the picture, as if it were already true.” “It sounded ridiculously simple,” says Steve Chandler, “Too simple to mean anything. But I wrote it down and never forgot it.” [Steve Chandler, 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself (Franklin Lakes, NJ: The Career Press, 2004), p. 22.] I wonder what Chandler would have thought if Arnold had said his dream was to become governor of California. Most of us at one time or another have had our dreams. Some of those dreams were childish. Many were unrealistic. James and John, the sons of Zebedee had dreams, ambitions.
10) Carrot flight to heaven: Rev. Anthony DeMello S. J. shares this tale: An old woman was dying. While examining her records, the Heavenly court could not find a single act of charity performed by her except for a carrot she had once given to a starving beggar. Such, however, was the power of a single deed of love that the merciful Lord decreed that she be taken up to Heaven on the strength of that carrot. The angel brought back the carrot from heaven and gave it to her soul which was leaving her body. The moment she caught hold of the carrot, it began to rise as if pulled by some invisible string, lifting her up toward the sky. The soul of a beggar appeared. He clutched the hem of her garment and was lifted with her; a third person caught hold of the beggar’s foot and was lifted too. Soon there was a long line of souls being lifted up to Heaven by that carrot. And, strange as it may seem, the woman did not feel the weight of all those people who held onto her. In fact, since she was looking Heavenward, she did not even see them. Higher and higher they rose until they almost reached the Heavenly gates. That was when the woman looked back to catch a last glimpse of the earth and saw this whole train of people behind her. She was indignant! She gave an imperious wave of her hand and shouted, “Off! Off, all of you! This carrot is mine!” In making her proud gesture, she let go of the carrot for a moment – and down she fell with the entire train. De Mello concludes: There is only one cause for every evil on earth: the “’This is mine!’ attitude!” Today’s Gospel describes how Jesus handled greed in two of his disciples.
11) “I wish every child could say the same.” In his book, Hide or Seek, James Dobson tells of a time when John McKay, the great football coach at the University of Southern California, was interviewed on television, and the subject of his son’s athletic talent was raised. Son John was a successful player on his dad’s team. Coach McKay was asked to comment on the pride that he felt over his son’s accomplishments on the field. His answer was most impressive: “Yes, I’m pleased that John had a good season last year. He does a fine job, and I’m proud of him. But I would be just as proud if he had never played the game at all.’ Dr. Dobson goes to on to say this: “Coach McKay was saying, in effect, that John’s football talent was recognized and appreciated, but his human worth did not depend upon his ability to play football. John’s place in his dad’s heart was secure, being independent of his performance. I wish every child could say the same.” (quoted by William J. Vamos, First Presbyterian Church, Elkhart, Indiana, “What Happens When You’re Not Number One?”, Pulpit Digest, p. 2117). In today’s Gospel Jesus warns James and John that what is important is not higher positions but willingness to do humble service.
12) First Baptist , First Presbyterian, First United Methodist Church: Drive through any town or suburb in America and you will see signs announcing the names of local churches. There will be a “First Presbyterian, a “First United Methodist,” a “First Baptist,” a “First United Church of Christ.” Only after the “First” designation has been snapped up do later churches start to shop around for a different name. “Second” isn’t very popular. Better to be “Third” or “Fourth.” There is even one “Twelfth Presbyterian Church” that I know of. Every Church wants to be “First.” And if they can’t be first, most abandon being numbered altogether. There is a Church in Dayton, Ohio, founded and pastored by the Rev. Dr. Daryl Ward, that has taken a step out of that traditional lineup. They call themselves “Omega Baptist Church.” What is “Omega?” “Omega” is the last letter of the Greek alphabet. The Divine declaration of being “the Alpha and the Omega” is another way of saying “the first and the last.” In other words, “Omega Baptist Church” isn’t claiming “first” place for itself. It is putting itself at the end of the line. It’s another way of calling itself the “Last Baptist Church.” It appears to get the teaching in today’s Gospel.
13) “Dad, did you realize that you treated the president of the hospital and the janitor just alike?” James Moore tells about a man named George. George was a peacemaker with a big heart and wonderful sense of humor. George claimed he was, “so tenderhearted that he cried at supermarket openings!” Everyone at Church loved George. He was respected at the hospital where he worked. The reason so many people loved George was because he was always kind and always respectful to everyone he met. His children vividly remember the days George spent in the hospital before he died. The president of the hospital paid him a visit. He and George talked like they were old friends. A couple of minutes later one of the janitors came to visit. And they spoke like they were old friends. When the janitor left, one of George’s children said to him, “Dad, did you realize that you treated the president of the hospital and the janitor just alike?” George smiled, chuckled and said, “Let me ask you something — if the president left for two weeks and the janitor left for two weeks, which one do you think would be missed the most?” Then George called his children around his bed. “Let me show you something I carry in my pocket all the time, even when I mow the lawn.” George pulled out a pocket-sized cross and a marble. George said, “On the cross are written these words, ‘God Loves You,’ and on the marble are these words, ‘Do unto Others as You Would Have Them Do unto You.’ The cross reminds me of how deeply God loves me, and the marble reminds me of how deeply God wants me to love others.” [James W. Moore, When All Else Fails (Nashville: Dimensions for Living, 1993), p. 78.] That’s A SERVANT’S HEART. That’s the Heart Jesus wants us all to have as we seek to serve Him and become more and more like Him each day by giving Him our heart.
14) The lamp-lighter was a good example of the genuine Christian: The following story is told about John Ruskin, the 18th century English writer, when he was quite old. He was visiting with a friend, and he was standing looking out the front window of the house. It was night-time, and the lamp-lighter was lighting the street lamps. From the window one could see only the lamps that were being lit, and the light the lamp-lighter was carrying from one lamp to another. The lamp-lighter himself could not be seen. Ruskin remarked that the lamp-lighter was a good example of the genuine Christian. His way was clearly lit by the lights he lit, and the light he kept burning, even though he himself might not be known or seen. At the beginning of the Gospel, Jesus said that he was the light that had come into the world. Today, he tells us that we are to become that light for others….. (Jack Mc Ardle in And that’s the Gospel Truth; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
15) Incarnating God’s love: When the great Japanese Christian Kagawa first heard about the life of Jesus, he cried out, “O God, make me like your Christ!” To be more like Christ, Kagawa left a comfortable home and went to live in the slums of Tokyo. There he shared himself and his possessions with whoever needed help. In his book Famous Life Decisions, Cecil Northcott says that Kagawa once gave away all his clothing. He was left standing in only a tattered kimono. On another occasion, even though deathly sick, he continued to preach to people in a rain, repeating over and over: ‘God is love! God is love! God is love! Where love is, there is God.” William Barclay gives us an insight into the heart and mind of Kagawa when he quotes the great man as saying: “God dwells among the lowliest of men.. He is there with beggars. He is among the sick, He stands with the unemployed. Therefore let him who would meet God visit the prison cell before going to the temple. Before he goes to Church let him visit the hospital. Before the reads his Bible let him help the beggar.” (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
16) Muhammad Ali “the greatest.” Muhammad Ali, the boxer, used to call himself “the greatest!” There was something comical about his arrogance. Once he declared: “I float like a butterfly, I sting like a bee.” The story is told of him that once when he was on an airplane about to take off, the flight steward said, “Sir, would you please fasten your seat belt?” Muhammad Ali replied, “Superman doesn’t need a seat belt.” The steward replied, “In that case, Superman doesn’t need an airplane to fly.” Today’s Gospel tells us of two of Jesus’ disciples who wanted to be supermen—to sit at the right hand and the left hand of Jesus in his Messianic kingdom– to be the greatest, to be the first.
17) Inflated Ego: Some American tourists one day visited the home of Beethoven. A young woman among them sat down at the great composer’s piano and began to play his Moonlight Sonata. After she had finished, she turned to the old caretaker and said: “I presume a great many musicians visit this place every year.” “Yes,” he replied. “Paderewski was here last year.” “And did he play on Beethoven’s piano?” “No,” he said, “he said he wasn’t worthy.” (Anonymous; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
18) Greatness at What Price: If we look at the enduring examples of greatness, we see that the Lord is right. Alexander was a remarkable leader because he stood by his men in battle. Albert the Great was an intellectual giant because he disciplined himself to study. Beethoven was a master composer because he struggled long hours to get the right note. Martin Luther was a great reformer because he persisted in spite of opposition. Archbishop Romero was great because he was ready to stand against the corrupt leaders and die for his people. St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) was great because she was able to give up the security of her convent life and open herself to the poorest of the poor. Mahatma Gandhi was great because he worked for freedom for his people and died practicing non-violence as a form of protest.(Quoted by Fr. Botelho).
19) Converting or sharing the best? In the recent past I read that St. Teresa of Kolkata (Mother Teresa), was once summoned to court on a trumped charge that she was converting children in her care to the Catholic Faith. Standing before the judge, she was asked if that was true. Turning to one of her Sisters, who were cradling a little baby in her arms, Mother Teresa asked for the infant. Then turning to the judge she replied: “Your honour, I picked this little baby from the garbage bin. I don’t know the religion of the family into which this innocent infant was born, nor do I know the language that its parents speak. All that I do is that I give this child my love, my time, my care, my food and the best thing that I have in my life -my faith in Christ Jesus. Can’t I give this child the best that I have in life?” The case was dismissed in favour of Mother Teresa. (James Valladares in Your Words, O Lord, Are Spirit, and They Are Life; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
20) Power from Above: In 1764 James Watt invented the steam engine, and steam power was used for the first time to drive machinery. In 1830 George Stephenson built the famous locomotive called the ‘Rocket’ which could carry heavy loads and move faster. It was the first real railway engine. The first motor car was built by Daimler in 1891 using petrol power to run on roads. The year 1903 opened the era of air flights, again with engines powered by petrol. Now space flights have become possible with power produced by other sources including liquid oxygen. But there is a greater power which is mightier than these powers -the power of God. This power lives in men empowering them to live victorious lives even in this present world. The clay vessels are made into vessels of glory driven by His power for the Master’s use. (Daniel Sunderaraj in Manna for the Soul; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
21) To serve with love: A boy was consistently coming home late from school. There was no good reason for his tardiness, and no amount of discussion seemed to help. Finally, in desperation, the boy’s father sat him down and said: “The next time you come late from school you are going to be given bread and water for your supper -and nothing else. Is that perfectly clear son?” The boy looked straight into his father’s eyes and nodded. He understood perfectly. A few days later the boy came home even later than usual. That night however, when they sat down together at the table there was only a single slice of bread in his plate and a glass of water. His father’s and mother’s plates were full of food. The father waited for the full impact to sink in, then, quietly took the boy’s plate and placed it in front of himself. He took his own plate and put it in front of the boy. The boy understood what his father was doing. His father was taking upon himself the punishment that he, the boy, had brought upon himself by his own delinquent behaviour. Years later the boy recalled the incident and said: “All my life I’ve known what God is like by what my father did that night.” “The Son of Man came to give his life to redeem many people.” (J. Allan Peterson in Leadership Magazine; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
22) Caring Service and Its Impact: A room-service waiter at a Marriott hotel learned that the sister of a guest had just died. The waiter, named Charles, bought a sympathy card, had hotel staff members sign it, and gave it to the distraught guest with a piece of hot apple pie. “Mr. Marriott,” the guest later wrote to the president of Marriott Hotels, “I’ll never meet you. And I don’t need to meet you. Because I met Charles. I know what you stand for. … I want to assure you that as long as I live, I will stay at your hotels. And I will tell my friends to stay at your hotels.” Roger Dow and Susan Cook, “Turned On” (New York: Harper Business, 1996). (Fr. Kayala).
23) Operation Omega: Today’s Gospel message
We should be the last to leave the side of a sick bed.
We should be the last to let a grieving spouse sit alone.
We should be the last to write off the children whose parents have failed them or thrown them away.
We should be the last to ignore the homeless camped out along our streets.
We should be the last to allow hunger to gnaw at the bellies of our neighbors.
We should be the last to shrug our shoulders at ongoing environmental degradation.
We should be the last to let despair grind down the powerless.
We should be the last to condone cruelty of any kind, to any living thing.
We should be the last to let human hatred triumph over Divine love.
Here are some suggestions of how you’d conduct Operation Omega:
1) Purposely let others get in line before you.
2) Try to be the last in line. And pray for those who seem most hurried and stressed because they’re not first in line.
3) If someone in back of you at the check-out line has fewer items than you do, or even if they don’t but seem in a hurry, let them go in front of you.
4) Let other cars “in” when they need an assist.
5) Measure your success at sporting events not by how many points you can score, but how many assists you can generate.
24) Who wears the authentic royal ring? Once upon a time in a far-off country, a king had twin sons. One was strong and handsome. The other was intelligent and wise. As the ruler grew old, everyone speculated about which son the king would choose as his successor – the strong son or the wise son. In this land the sign of kingship was a royal ring. Just before the king died, he had a copy of the royal ring made and presented both rings to his twin sons. The chief advisors to the king asked him, “How shall we know which son wears the authentic royal ring?” “You shall know,” answered the king, “because the chosen one will reveal his right to rule by his self-giving service to our people.” [Richard Carl Hoefler, Insights, October 1988].
25) “He gave us all he had and gave gladly.” There is an old story of a rice 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. His rice barns were dry as tinder. So, with a torch he set fire to his barns and soon the fire gong 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 are not many people in our world like that farmer. He willingly sacrificed himself that others might succeed. Most people do everything they can to better themselves and think nothing of the people they step on, leaving them behind as they climb to the top of the heap. This text is 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. (Sermon Notebook).
26) The man was seen having a bagel and coffee: I have a story of servanthood to leave you with this morning. A woman found a stack of checks all made out to someone named Stacy, with a bank deposit slip for an amount over $3,000. Rather than call the woman, she decided to take the checks to the bank and deposit them in the woman’s account. She told the teller that the owner would likely come in soon all upset about losing the checks. Tell her the money was found and deposited. Then tell her to read this note, which said, “Hi, Stacy, I found your deposit and brought it to the bank. I don’t know if you take the train to work in the morning, but there is a homeless man who sits by the station nearby here every morning, and if you would like to pass on the good deed, he could use a cup of coffee and a bagel tomorrow morning. Have a great day.” That was a Tuesday. The man was seen having a bagel and coffee on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. It seems Stacy was very happy about having the lost money deposited in her account. That’s an example of the kind of service God wants us to perform, and is so needed, especially with people losing jobs today. (Rev. James F. Wright)
27) “The Narcissism Epidemic…Living in an age of entitlement.” Perhaps you have heard of the ancient Greek legend of Narcissus. He was supposedly the son of a river god. A seer had told his mother that her son must never see his reflection if he were to mature into manhood. For that reason, everything that threw off an image, such as metal, was removed from her son’s grasp. But one day Narcissus found a spring that formed a pool filled with crystal-clear water. As he stooped down to take a drink from the pool, he saw his reflection on the surface of the pool. He fell desperately in love with himself, and seeking to embrace himself, he fell into the water and he drowned. We don’t speak much anymore of the legend of Narcissus. We do, however, use his name to describe those who are hopelessly self-centered and self-absorbed. In fact, narcissism is now identified and catalogued as an official personality disorder by the medical profession. In a broader sense, we use the name to describe one of the great maladies of our 21st century American culture. Ours, in many ways, is a narcissistic culture. We live in an age of entitlement. In fact, about 10 years ago there was book written on the subject. It was titled, The Narcissism Epidemic…Living in an Age of Entitlement. The authors give us a few examples of how our culture has turned in on itself. They write, five times as many Americans undergo plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures as did ten years ago, and ordinary people hire fake paparazzi to follow them around to make them look famous. High school students physically attack classmates and post YouTube videos of the beatings to get attention. And for the past several years, Americans have been buying McMansions and expensive cars on credit they can’t afford.” None of this, of course, should surprise us. Consider the contrast set before us this morning in the Gospel reading from Mark 10. James and John versus Jesus–selfish ambition versus self-sacrifice; wanting to be a lord over others versus being Lord of all, and yet, desiring only to serve. These are two completely different ways of life, two opposing mindsets, two contradictory purposes, even, for life itself. (Rev. Alan Taylor).
28) Servant leadership: This passage also tells us about the standard of Greatness in the Kingdom of Jesus when Jesus places before us the concept of the servant leader. In the kingdom of Jesus, the standard was that of service. Greatness consisted, not in reducing other men to one’s service, but in reducing oneself to their service. Hannibal Barca was a military commander of the Carthage army in 247 BC. He led a famous campaign in the second Punic War against the Roman army, remaining undefeated until the very gates of Rome. His most famous military accomplishment was the battle of Cannae, where he defeated a Roman army size double of his. What was the secret of his success? He was a man who led by example. He would sleep among his soldiers and would not wear anything that made him distinct above his soldiers. He would lead the armies into battle and be the last to leave the battlefield. Even today he stands as a model for leadership. Ernest Shackleton is another great example of a servant leader. He was an early 20th century explorer whose ship was crushed in Antarctic ice. After countless brushes with death, including an 800-mile journey in open boats across the winter Antarctic seas, Shackleton brought every one of his 27 crew members home alive. It took two years, but his sense of responsibility toward his men never wavered. One of the many tactics he used to serve his men was to share sleeping quarters with those who were most disgruntled instead of his favorite people to be around. These leaders put the needs of the people they lead ahead of their own. So, they became great. (Fr. Bobby Jose).
29) Rudiard Kipling has a poem called “Mary’s Son” which is advice on the spirit in which a man must work.
If you stop to find out what your wages will be
And how they will clothe and feed you,
Willie, my son, don’t you go on the Sea.
For the Sea will never need you.
If you ask for the reason of every command,
And argue with people about you,
Willie, my son, don’t you go on the Land,
For the Land will do better without you.
If you stop to consider the work, you have done
And to boast what your labour is worth, dear,
Angels may come for you, Willie, my son,
But you’ll never be wanted on Earth, dear! (Fr. Bobby Jose). L/18
“Scriptural Homilies” Cycle B (No 55) by Fr. Tony: email@example.com
Visit our website: http://frtonyshomilies.com/for previous Cycle B homilies, 141 Year of Faith “Adult Faith Formation Lessons” (useful for RCIA classes too) & 196 “Question of the Week.” Contact me only at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit http://www.vaticannews.va/en/church.html for the Vatican version of this homily.
Fr. Anthony Kadavil, Chaplain, Sacred Heart Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor, 1655 McGill Ave, Mobile, AL 36604.