•Isaiah 53: 10-11 • Hebrews 4: 14-16 • Mark 10: 35-45•
Weekly Scripture Readings:29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I remember so much from my grade school days. We were asked “are you willing to die for your faith like the early Christian martyrs?” Most of us glibly responded, “yes, I am willing.” My ability to respond to that question has matured. How about you? How would you respond today? Imagine the situation where some belligerent person challenges you, “deny Jesus or we will rape and kill your wife!” “Spit on this crucifix or we will pull out your fingernails.” Such things do happen today. Surely our response matters, but not in the way most of us think.
Mark wrote his gospel about forty years after the events. Now centuries later, we read and reread Mark, hoping to learn more about our own engagement in the Christ mystery.
In this story of the misguided ambition of his first companions, Mark is teaching us what it means to follow Jesus. They simply didn’t get it when Jesus warns them that when they arrive in Jerusalem he will suffer, die and “after three days rise again.” The text challenges — “Do I get it?”
The brothers James and John find a moment to be alone with Jesus. “Will you do us a big favor?” Jesus does not answer yes or no, but asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” Then the other disciples reveal their misguided ambitions. Apparently they were not as shrewd as James and John, but were equally obtuse and ambitious. They got angry with the brothers.
The historical records available to us are clear. Our earliest ancestors in faith experienced social, psychological and physical violence. They were confused by “post-traumatic stress” and could not comprehend why Jesus had been subjected to such a brutal and demeaning death. They kept asking themselves and one another, “why?” In their struggle they turned to the Jewish Bible looking for some explanation. It took them years, but eventually, in texts like the Suffering Servant Songs of Second Isaiah, they found answers.
The dominant culture in which the gospels were written, were much like those in which the prophets lived, or the dominant culture in which we live. There was war, chaos and confusion. Neither Isaiah nor the other prophets were foretelling future events. In stressful times they were exhorting their peers to persevere in faith. The evangelists wove these texts into their written gospels for the same purpose. In stressful times they were exhorting their peers to persevere.
Eventually our ancestors connected the deaths of martyrs to the death of Jesus. A tradition was born that was expressed in that question asked of us repeatedly. “Are you willing to die for your faith like the early Christian martyrs?”
As church we are called to follow Jesus, to imitate him and to embrace his values. To do so means to express our trust in that Gracious Mystery we name God by loving all people, even those who threaten harm to us, or our family.
I now think that refusing to “verbally deny Jesus,” or refusing “to spit on a crucifix” proves nothing. Following and imitating Christ is far more demanding than that. Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek. Forgive seventy times seven. Bless those who curse you. Share what you have with the poor. Put all your hope and trust in God.
This story about James and John and the others raises this question. “How is your love life?” Motivation is a crucial factor in shaping your answer. What motivates you in your response to the many concerns facing us as a people: refugees, the Iran nuclear agreement, ownership of guns and so on. Make your own list of concerns. What motivates your response or in other words, How is your love life?
“Are you willing to die for your faith like the early Christian martyrs?” My ability to respond to that question has matured. The real question is this. “How is your love life?”
Become an advocate for gun control and see what happens! Refuse to work in any industry that produces instruments of death and see what happens! Refuse to serve in the military and see what happens. “Are you willing to die for your faith like the early Christian martyrs?”