Theme: Blood and Suffering

By: Fr. Jude Chijioke


Homily for Sunday October 19 2021

Readings: Isaiah 53: 1O – 11; Hebrews 4: 14 – 16; Mark 10: 35 – 45

Three readings united by a red thread of blood and suffering guide our Sunday reflection today. We begin with the first reading which is a fragment taken from the fourth poem of the Servant of the Lord, a text famous above all in the Christian messianic rereading. This mysterious character enters the scene under the image of a shoot that has sprung up in a lonely desert. He is therefore an isolated man; hence, has no glorious ancestors. The very existence of him is a miracle, it is a divine gift, it is grace because it cannot be generated and nourished by the arid earth in which it appears. He – the text says – will “justifies many” by saving them with his atoning pain and in the end, he contemplates God himself in glory, together with all those whom he has brought to salvation. His life and his death were a liberating sacrifice for us all, his being a “servant” generated our justification and reconciliation with God.

At this point it is easy to move on to the second reading taken from the Letter to the Hebrews, a testimony of the rich theology of Christian origins attributed to St. Paul. On stage now is the Messiah, Jesus Christ, solemnly presented as the “perfect high priest”. Yet under the golden mantle of his paschal glory, he bears the stigmata of the cross and suffering. He is the brother of the sick and painful humanity because “he himself has been tried in everything”. He is not a royal priest, impassive or detached from humanity: it is in fact with his own blood that he redeems, approaching man, indeed entering that desert of evil and pain that is human history.

Our gospel passage today from Mark contains the third and last of those announcements of the passion and death that marked the journey of Jesus to Calvary. Following Jesus is making a journey towards total self-giving, it is the “via crucis” in the full sense of expression. And in the face of this messianism of self-giving and not of empire, in the front of this path of “serving” and not of “being served” we see the reaction of James and John, disciples still enveloped in the fumes of political illusions and of a triumphal religiosity. To their conception anchored on a messianism of position, Jesus opposes with messianism of immolation and self-emptying.

The response of Jesus develops in two phases. The first is addressed precisely to James and John and revolves around two symbols, the chalice and baptism. The chalice in the Bible is above all a sign of divine judgment: “For in the hand of the Lord there is a chalice with foaming wine, well mixed; and he will pour a draught from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs” (Ps 75: 8). And, also, a symbol of a destiny which, however, can be positive, when we speak of the “cup of salvation” (Ps 116, 13). With this image Jesus alludes to his death which is justice and salvation; he, in that instant, will assume upon himself the divine judgment on the evil of the world, He will be crushed by it, but the contents of that chalice will be luminously transformed into the generous wine of the messianic banquet of salvation.

The other symbol, baptism, in the original meaning of the term, means “immersion” and in the Old Testament suffering is represented precisely as a sinking into the whirlpool of water: “Save me, O God, the water reaches my throat. I sink into the mud and have no support; I have fallen into deep waters and the whirlwind overwhelms me” (Ps 69, 2-3). Jesus, therefore, still refers to his passion and death: following him on the way of the cross and self-giving is what he proposes, not the one on the road to a dazzling career. Yet, at the end of that steep and rocky road, the splendid day of Easter rises when the Father will hand over the kingdom to Christ and his disciples: “Truly, I say to you, in the new world when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me, will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Mt 19:28).

To the lesson addressed to the two sons of Zebedee, Jesus adds another, more transparent and immediate, addressed to all the disciples. This is the golden rule of Christian authority understood as service, donation, sacrifice for others and not possession, dominion, pride, and self-affirmation and glory. In the background, Jesus presents himself as the one who serves and gives his life for his brothers. The representation that immediately appears before our eyes could be that of the Last Supper with Christ bent over the feet of the apostles, ready to make a gesture that in the ancient Near East could not even be imposed on a slave, the washing of the feet: “You call me Master and Lord and you are right, because that is what I AM. So, if I, the Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. In fact, I have given you an example, so that as I did, you may do also” (Jn 13: 13-15).

Fr. Jude Chijioke

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