29th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Year B.
Commentary Theme for this Sunday:
“An Authority To Command?
No, To Serve!”
On this ‘Mission Sunday’ the first reading shows us God preparing his people to adopt the mentality of service and of giving up one’s life that Jesus was to illustrate later.
The second reading tells us that the Son of God was not afraid to come down to the level of the human being. He became one of us and shares our human condition. Shouldn’t we and his disciples and us have the courage and the love to lower ourselves to the level of the least among us?
The Gospel message for us today is: the various abilities and talents we have been granted by God are not to cause division, to help us rule over, or to compete with others. All of our gifts must be a source of communion with each other to compliment each other. To be ‘great’ means to be the ‘last’ and to be the ‘servant of all’, just as Christ was.
All members of the Church must feel strongly challenged by the mandate of the Lord to preach the Gospel, so that Christ may be proclaimed everywhere.
It is recommended that the actual readings are first studied and then meditated upon with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to grant you the gift of ‘wisdom’ to understand the meaning of the messages of Love, Forgiveness and the Offer of Salvation that the Lord has for each one of us in the Holy Bible.
These commentaries, which have been extracted and summarised for our meditation are from the published works of priests who have by their Divine inspiration become acclaimed scholars of the Scriptures and generally reflect the Church’s understanding of the readings.
These commentaries are not meant to replace the Sunday Homily at Holy Mass but are provided as an additional guide to assist and further enhance our understanding of the Sunday Liturgical Readings.
‘Daily Reflections’ and a Prayer are included to enable us to ‘Live the Word’ during the week following the Sunday Mass. We will begin to understand the meaning of gratuitous love and our life’s true purpose. Through His Word we will follow the Light to help fulfil the mission that has been given to each one of us by our Creator.
“Ignorance of the Scriptures is ‘Ignorance of Christ’.”
People want to be winners, never losers; they try to rule others, and not to serve them. But God’s ways are the exact opposite, and in the Old Testament he gives people the example of the ‘faithful servant’ to teach his people as well as us to accept the logic of ‘giving up one’s life’.
A few Sunday’s ago we found this mysterious figure who is proposed to us again today to help us to understand and accept the exacting message of the Gospel.
In the first reading, Isaiah speaks of the growing pains of Israel. Personifying Israel, he says: “It was the will of the Lord to crush him [Israel] with pain.” But “when you make his life an offering for sin, he shall … prolong his days … my servant shall make many righteous.” Isaiah recognised that the sufferings of Israel would lead to maturity. What is more, it will be these very sufferings, patiently accepted, that will justify “many” (for “many”, we can read “all”).
In the first part of the reading we have the description of what this humble ‘Servant’ is like: he is like a sapling in arid ground; he has none of the features that attract attention of people: beauty or strength; on the contrary he is a weak person, despised, defeated and a loser.
The second part of the reading shows how differently God judges the life of this ‘Servant’. What in the eyes of people is failure; for God it can be success. It is through self-sacrifice, suffering and self-giving that he achieves salvation. Just because he is the victim of hate, injustice and violence, the ‘Servant’ frees even his own persecutors from their iniquities.
Christians believe that this is the perfect image of Jesus, who saves people, not by ruling them, but by humbling himself, kneeling down in front of them to serve them and giving up his life. The servant of Isaiah described in this, the last four ‘Songs of the Servant’, is particularly a heroic figure. He does not give up his life for a loved one or for a grand ideal, but as a sin offering. He is willing to die, not for good but in reparation for evil.
Those who originally contemplated the scroll of Isaiah must have had as difficult a time with this passage as we still do. Yet Jesus saw himself in the role of Isaiah’s servant, and set about to fulfil the prophecy. The servant is promised long life and descendants, neither of which Jesus had in a natural sense. But Christ lives in the Church, and we are all heirs to his kingdom in the Spirit. Christ lives in the world to the extent we are willing to give him ‘breath and being’ in ourselves, to have Christ be part of our lives and to live in our hearts.
Psalm 33:4-5,18-20, 22.
The Psalm is a hymn to God who created the world and continues to care for it. The only worthy human response is reverence, trust and the practice of the justice and mercy which God loves (Hos. 6:6; Mt. 9:13).
We read in the first chapters of the Gospel that Jesus allowed the devil to tempt him. The topic is never mentioned afterwards. Only Luke hints at the presence of the evil spirits later in the life of Jesus; he says, in fact, that the “devil left him until the appointed time” (Lk. 4:13).
Today’s reading from the letter to the Hebrews brings up the subject clearly once again. It tells us how Christ can well understand our weakness, because he himself was tempted like us, and the only difference was that while we are often unfaithful, he never sinned. It shows a Jesus very close to us, very mindful of our difficulties and our challenges.
He did not just pretend to be human, he really was; he went through the same difficulties that we encounter and therefore he knows how difficult it is to remain faithful to God, particularly when we are afflicted by pain and sorrow. “Jesus learnt obedience, Son though he was, through his sufferings” (Heb. 5:8).
Once again the theme is familiar. The Apostles persist in misunderstanding the nature of the Kingdom and what it means to be the Messiah. Once more, Jesus has to gently remind them using metaphorical language that suffering is involved in being one of his followers. The first reading from Isaiah has prepared us again by referring once more to the sufferings to be experienced by the Servant of God, identified with the Messiah.
As Jesus and his disciples approach Jerusalem, Jesus reminds them for the third time that he will suffer, die and rise from the dead. As with the other previous announcements, the disciples fail to understand his teaching and Jesus has to challenge them again.
John and James show how much they misunderstand Jesus when they ask for the places of honour in his kingdom. Once more, Jesus has to teach them and all those who want to become his disciples that they must become the servants and even slaves to all by following Jesus’ own example of total self-giving.
When Jesus announced that he was going to Jerusalem, many people understood that he was going to take possession of the town politically and set up a messianic government. In which case, he would need ministers, and James and John offer their services. Their request is for two important posts in the messianic cabinet.
Was their motive a desire to serve or for personal ambition? Jesus challenges their expectations. He is not going to Jerusalem for political reasons or to become a ruler, but instead to suffer and die and to rise again. His confrontation with the religious leaders will cost him his life. His place of honour will be on the Cross. The places of honour on his right and his left will be taken by two thieves.
When James and John asked for the seats of honour next to Jesus, they wanted to be important people to whom others would render homage and service. Jesus demolishes their self-made thrones. In the kingdom of Jesus, the leader is there, not to exploit others or to receive honour and be served by them, but rather to be their servant and even their slave.
The lesson Jesus is teaching here is not just following him. It’s about life, Christian life. All too often, people want to do as little as possible and to get as much as possible. Only when we are willing to put more into life than we take out, will life for us and for others be truly happy and prosperous. In public life, who are the best people to elect? They are the ones who are looking not for just power and influence, but the chance to serve. Popes are among the most influential people in the world, yet they sign all papal documents “servant of the servants of God.”
When Jesus gave the cup of wine to his disciples, Jesus tells them that it represents his blood, the blood of the New Covenant, which will be “poured out for many” (Mk. 14:24). The expression ‘for many’ means for everybody. Jesus gives himself to save people of all races, languages for all time. Nobody is excluded. Everybody is invited to follow Jesus on his way to Jerusalem.
The world desperately needs people whose ideal is service, who realize that what Jesus is saying makes sense. “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant.” Jesus backs it up with his own example: “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life for many”.
The following of Jesus will always demand a reversal of our values, of our way looking at life. In the new community of Jesus, leadership must be a gratuitous service and not be a means for self-glorification or, worse, exploitation. Jesus kept on trying to teach his disciples to love and serve as he was doing and would prove so fully on Calvary. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, which was normally the task of a servant. Our clergy follow Jesus’ example. Can you do the same?
The attitude of the disciples reminds us of their humanness. Their motives for following Jesus had to be purified so often, and so deeply. Only after Easter and Pentecost did they really understand. Likewise our motives for following Jesus need to be purified. Jesus gave to his Church the Sacraments to purify our faith and our love.
One who becomes a true Christian will have his or her value system turned upside down by Jesus’ worldview.
‘Acknowledgement and Thanks’ to ‘Recommended Source Material’ by:
Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Fr. Fernando Armellini SCI, Peter Edmonds SJ, Richard Baawobr M.Afr, Joseph A. Slattery Ph.D, Adelmo Spagnolo MCCJ, Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap, J.E. Spicer CSsR, John R. Donahue SJ and Alice Camille – Master’s degree in Divinity.
Reflections for each day this Week to lead us in the ‘Way, the Truth and the Life’:
Almighty God and Father, on the … of the week following the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B, we reflect on …
Sun. … The world applauds those who become stars, celebrities, icons and sporting greats. What about those who strive to do their best but never make it to the podium? What about the so-called ‘losers’ in our society and those who tirelessly serve the needs of others before their own needs? Who applauds them? God applauds them. “The least among us is great in the Kingdom of Heaven”. Who do you wish to appease, God or the world?
Mon. … There is no harm to our spirituality to wish to become better at what we do. There is no harm to ‘raise the bar’ to new standards of human achievement. God has given us all certain gifts and talents that we must strive to develop to the full, for the benefit of all humanity. It is when our aim to be a ‘winner’ for our pride, personal and selfish reasons, we start to put our quest for personal greatness above others. When we begin to ‘laud’ it over others, we are replacing our love for God and others with self-worship and pride?
Tues. … There can be no greater human achievement than to be Christ-like. In the eyes of God, there can be no greater personal achievement than through self-sacrifice, gratuitous love, suffering for justice and self-giving to alleviate the agony, heartache and hardship of others. There can be no greater gift than to receive the prize of our salvation by the grace of God.
Wed. … The easiest and most successful way the ‘evil one’ has to test those who are mindful of God’s Law is to tempt and stoke their pride. Jesus in his human experience learnt obedience through self-sacrifice. Pride can lead to greed and to self-destruction. Today let us, too, learn obedience to God’s will through self-sacrifice for the benefit of those less fortunate than us.
Thurs. … How important are the places of honour in our lives? The world has created many desirable status symbols, which give us prestige and honour. Do these status symbols own us? When these ‘symbols of our ranking’ become our idols and emerge dominant in our lives can we give them up when they prevent us from serving God and others?
Frid. … Jesus teaches us to put more into life than we take out. To serve others is to put more into life, to seek humility rather than greatness is to take less out of life. Today make a point of being a loving ‘servant’ to all that you meet and feel the joy and happiness that it brings.
Sat. … Through the teachings of the Church we have all received the ‘Good News’. There are millions of our brothers and sisters who, like us, have been redeemed by the Blood of Christ, but who, like many of us, live in ignorance of the love of God. We, the baptized, need to become agents of evangelization by practicing the zeal of the early Christians. That is our Mission!
Prayer after the Daily Reflection.
Father, help us to understand the new meaning of self-sacrifice. Give us the courage and the wisdom to take on the role of a servant for benefit of others. Help us to search deep into our hearts for the love and compassion given to us by the Holy Spirit each time we share in the sacraments You have given us through Your Church, that we too, may share these same gifts with others. Lord teach us to be a Your humble servants so that we may be worthy to serve You; teach us to love and serve others so that they may truly know and love You.
This we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.
Compliments: Bible Discussion Group. Our Lady of the Wayside, Maryvale.
“Discovering the Truth through God’s living Word”.