As we have followed the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem in previous gospel passages we have heard him speak repeatedly of what faces him there. Each time he tells the disciples of his coming death and resurrection, they are reluctant to face the painful reality. In this passage, once Jesus has spoken of his death for a third time, James and John demonstrate how disconnected they are from Jesus. They crave the best places in the kingdom.
Jesus’ response focuses once again on the call to martyrdom. Are they willing to drink the cup and to be baptised in suffering? The two brothers say they are. Nevertheless, rewards in the kingdom are not assured. For Jesus such matters are for the Father.
The disciples need further teaching from Jesus. The ambitions of the disciple should not be those of the people of the world. They should not crave status and power, but the place of the slave, for they are the disciples of the one who came ‘not to be served, but to serve’ and to give his life as ‘a ransom for many’. Jesus seems to be alluding here to the role of the servant as described in our first reading from the book of Isaiah. The servant offers his life in ‘atonement’ for the sins of many. ‘By his wounds we have been healed’.
Do I share the ambition of James and John for the best seats in the kingdom?
Do I endeavour to unite the sufferings in my life with the suffering of Christ?
Let us thank God for the saving work of Christ the servant.
Let us be grateful for the witness of the martyrs of our own time.
Fr. Adrian Graffy