Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Can You Drink The Chalice That I Drink, Or Be Baptized With The Baptism With Which I Am Baptized?

Wednesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
1 Peter 1:18-25
Realize that you were ransomed
from your futile conduct,
handed on by your ancestors,
not with perishable things like silver or gold
but with the precious Blood of Christ
as of a spotless unblemished Lamb.
He was known before the foundation of the world
but revealed in the final time for you,
who through him believe in God
who raised him from the dead and gave him glory,
so that your faith and hope are in God.

Since you have purified yourselves
by obedience to the truth for sincere brotherly love,
love one another intensely from a pure heart.
You have been born anew,
not from perishable but from imperishable seed,
through the living and abiding word of God, for:

“All flesh is like grass,
and all its glory like the flower of the field;
the grass withers,
and the flower wilts;
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
This is the word that has been proclaimed to you.
Peter reminds us that we have been “redeemed”. In the Scriptures, to ‘redeem’ (literally, ‘buy back’) means to free someone from something bad by paying a penalty, or a ransom. Similarly, in the Greek world slaves could be made free by the payment of a price, either by someone else or by the slave himself.

In this case, the ransom price is not silver or gold but something far more precious, Christ’s own blood poured out for us by his death on the cross. The result is the “forgiveness of sin” and our reconciliation with God.
The readers are told that they have been redeemed from the “futile conduct”, an empty way of life, that had been handed down by their ancestors. Some maintain that the letter is addressed to former pagans because the New Testament stresses the emptiness of pagan life. Others think they may have been Jews since Jews were traditionalists who stressed the influence of keeping the Law. A life simply based on the observance of external laws could not bring salvation and redemption. In the light of the context of the whole letter, probably both Jews and Gentiles are addressed.

They have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb of God, an “unblemished Lamb” foreseen long ago in God’s plan to bring us all back to him and replacing all other animal sacrifices of the Old Testament which were only a pale foreshadowing of what was to come. The Old Testament sacrifices were types (or foreshadowings) of Christ, depicting the ultimate and only effective sacrifice. An unblemished lamb was the centrepiece at the Passover meal. But for us, Jesus Christ is the Passover Lamb, the One who takes away the sin of the world.
It is through this Lamb, raised by the Father into glory, that we have become believers in God and that, through our faith and hope, our lives have become centred on God, the only source of meaning to our lives.

Before time began Jesus was already chosen but only revealed in these times to those who are called. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1) “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation” (Colossians 1:15). Some think the Greek for this word can mean ‘foreknown’ rather than ‘chosen’. In other words, God knew before creation that it would be necessary for Christ to redeem the human race but he has revealed Christ only in these last times. Others interpret the word as meaning that in past eternity God chose Christ as Redeemer.

It is through this Jesus, raised from the dead to eternal glory, that we put all our faith and trust in God.
Our submission to this understanding of our origins leads necessarily and unavoidably to a deep love for our brothers and sisters. “Therefore, love one another constantly from the heart.”
All in all, our being re-born is the result of an enduring seed planted in our heart, that seed is the word (Word) of God. “The grass withers, the flower wilts, but the word of the Lord endures forever” (Isaiah 40:6-8). Our new birth comes about through the direct action of the Holy Spirit , but the “living and abiding” word of God also plays an important role, for it presents the Gospel to the sinner and calls on us to repent and believe in Christ.
The writer concludes by quoting from the prophet Isaiah (40:6-8):
“All flesh is grass… the grass withers…
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

It is this word which the Letter is proclaiming, a word which is a source of life. It is the Gospel which we hear proclaimed to us. That Gospel can be summed up in the two points brought up in today’s passage: 1, we have been bought back from sin by the priceless blood of the Lamb, poured out on the cross for us; and 2, we show our gratitude for this by the unconditional love we show for our brothers and sisters everywhere.
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Psalm 147
Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.Glorify the LORD, O Jerusalem;
praise your God, O Zion.
For he has strengthened the bars of your gates;
he has blessed your children within you.
Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
He has granted peace in your borders;
with the best of wheat he fills you.
He sends forth his command to the earth;
swiftly runs his word!
Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
He has proclaimed his word to Jacob,
his statutes and his ordinances to Israel.
He has not done thus for any other nation;
his ordinances he has not made known to them. Alleluia.
Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
Mark 10:32-45
The disciples were on the way, going up to Jerusalem,
and Jesus went ahead of them.
They were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.
Taking the Twelve aside again, he began to tell them
what was going to happen to him.
“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man
will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes,
and they will condemn him to death
and hand him over to the Gentiles who will mock him,
spit upon him, scourge him, and put him to death,
but after three days he will rise.”

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee,
came to Jesus and said to him,
“Teacher, we want you to do for us
whatever we ask of you.”
He replied, “What do you wish me to do for you?”
They answered him,
“Grant that in your glory
we may sit one at your right
and the other at your left.”
Jesus said to them,
“You do not know what you are asking.
Can you drink the chalice that I drink
or be baptized with the baptism
with which I am baptized?”
They said to him, “We can.”
Jesus said to them,
“The chalice that I drink, you will drink,
and with the baptism with which I am baptized,
you will be baptized;
but to sit at my right or at my left
is not mine to give
but is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
When the ten heard this,
they became indignant at James and John.
Jesus summoned them and said to them,
“You know that those who are recognized
as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them,
and their great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you.
Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you
will be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you
will be the slave of all.
For the Son of Man did not come
to be served but to serve
and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
We now come to the third and final foretelling of his passion, death and resurrection by Jesus. It is not insignificant that it follows immediately on the story of the rich man and the teaching of Jesus that goes with it. We are now going to see what discipleship of Jesus really means.

“They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem.” A statement of fact but pregnant with meaning. They were on the road, not just any road, but THE road and that road goes to Jerusalem and points to all that Jerusalem will mean for Jesus and his followers. Jesus is the Road, the Way and his way brings him to Jerusalem, the carrying of his cross, the letting go of his life in love of his Father and us, leading to the final triumph. Those who wish to be his disciples have to be ready to walk that road with him.

The disciples have not quite reached this stage of discipleship yet. As Jesus steps out firmly on the road to Jerusalem, his disciples straggle behind. They were “in a daze and those who followed him were apprehensive”. As far as they were concerned, Jesus was out of his mind. To go to Jerusalem at this time was asking for trouble, serious trouble. Everyone knew the Jewish leadership was out to get Jesus. Jerusalem was the last place to go.
Jesus shows them he is under no illusion about the situation. He gives them a detailed description of what is going to happen to him, more detailed than in the previous foretellings. The key term “handed over” is used again and, for the first time, a handing over to the “Gentiles” is mentioned. Condemnation to death will come from the leaders of his people but the carrying out of the execution will be the work of the Romans. It was not just some Jews who were responsible for Jesus’ death; we were there, too, in the person of the Roman Gentiles.

Nevertheless, earlier on the disciples had acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah and Saviour-King of Israel. In the second prediction they had revealed an awareness that what Jesus was predicting was going to happen and so debated who his successor might be. Now, for the first time, the last part of the prediction - rising after three days - seems to be getting through.

Perhaps it was in that frame of mind that Jesus is approached by two of his closest disciples, James and John. However, it is also clear that they showed little understanding of all that Jesus had taught them so far. They approached him gingerly: “Master, we want you to do us a favour.” Replies Jesus: “What is it you want me to do for you?” (Note the question, because we will meet it again in tomorrow’s reading.)

The answer of the two brothers indicates how little they have understood of the mind of Jesus: “Allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory. (After all, you did say three times that you were going to rise again after your death.)”

This is a perfect example of what the Chinese call guanxi, using a personal acquaintance or relationship to get in by the back door and obtain a favour otherwise out of reach. And by “glory” they are almost certainly thinking in worldly terms of Jesus as an earthly, victorious, all conquering king. The kind of person they expected the Messiah to be.
“You do not know what you are asking,” Jesus tells them. They neither know the kind of King Jesus is going to be nor do they know the price he is going to pay to enter that kingship. This is clear from the next question he puts to them: “Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptised in the way in which I must be baptised?” This is a clear reference to Jesus’ passion and death, the price he will pay to reveal God’s love for his children.

We remember, later in the garden, as the weight of his coming passion presses him down, Jesus prays that the cup be taken away. “Baptism” implies a total immersion and Jesus will be totally overwhelmed with suffering and shame and humiliation.

Do the two disciples realise this? Are they ready to go through this with Jesus on their way to the privileges and glory they are asking for? “We can,” they confidently boast without realising just what is involved. In fact, with the rest of their companions they will scatter and disappear when these events overtake their Master.

Nevertheless, looking further ahead Jesus generously tells them that they will indeed one day share Jesus’ cup and his baptism of suffering and death. James would be one of the first martyrs of the young church. However, as to giving them the places of honour they were looking for, that was beyond Jesus’ power to give. “They belong to those to whom they have been allotted.” In other words, these places are not just for the asking; they have to be earned. They will be given, not to those who furtively ask, but to those whose love most closely approaches that of Jesus himself.

Not surprisingly, the other ten were highly indignant when they found out what James and John had done behind their back. They were not indignant at the impropriety or the daring but that they had been taken advantage of. They wanted exactly the same things themselves.

Following the same pattern as the other previous incidents, the prediction of the Passion and Resurrection is followed by a show of misunderstanding by the disciples, leading to a teaching. And that is what comes now.

Jesus now patiently gives them another lesson on what real greatness in his Kingdom consists of. In the “world” to be great is to have power over others, to exercise authority, to be able to control and manipulate people to be at your disposal, to use people to attain your ends. However, in Jesus’ world those are really great who put themselves and their unique gifts to promote the well-being of brothers and sisters, especially those in most need. And the more people we can serve the greater we are.

‘Authority’ is not to control but to empower. And it is the role of anyone in authority to generate ideas, energy, creativity in those for whom one is responsible. In other words to serve those who have been entrusted to one’s authority. But it is a corruption of the word to become ‘authoritarian’ in such a position. After 2,000 years of Christianity it is a lesson practically all of us have yet to learn.

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