Father Valan Arockiaswamy

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Close Dear Audience,
For better understanding of the spiritual message behind this homily I kindly remind you to first read and contemplate the biblical texts before reading or listening to my preaching - a human reflection on the Word of God!

Twenty Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B)

Oct 17, 2021 Views 950 Listen 1 Downloads 0
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First Reading

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (53:10-11)

The Lord was pleased to crush him in infirmity. If He gives His life as an offering for sin, He shall see His descendants in a long life, and the will of the Lord shall be accomplished through Him. Because of His affliction He shall see the light in fullness of days; through His suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.

(P) The word of the Lord.
(R) Thanks be to God.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalms of David (33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22)

(R) Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.

Upright is the word of the Lord, and all His works are trustworthy. He loves justice and right; of the kindness of the Lord the earth is full. (R)

See, the eyes of the Lord are upon those who fear him, upon those who hope for His kindness, to deliver them from death and preserve them in spite of famine. (R)

Our soul waits for the Lord, who is our help and our shield. May your kindness, O Lord, be upon us who have put our hope in you. (R)

Second Reading

A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews (4:14-16)

Brothers and sisters: Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace of receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.

(P) The word of the Lord.
(R) Thanks be to God.


A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark (10:35-45)

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 cup 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 cup that I drink, you will drink, and with 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."

(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
(R) Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


There is a story of a poor farmer who saved an entire village from destruction. From his hilltop farm, he felt the earthquake and saw the coastal ocean waters rapidly recede from the shore. He knew that tsunami waves would rush towards the land. In the valley below, he saw his neighbours in low fields that would be soon flooded. They must run quickly to the hilltop or they would all die. Without delay, the farmer found a way to save them. His rice barns were dry as tinder. So, with a torch he set fire to his barns and soon the fire gong started ringing. His neighbours saw the smoke and rushed over to help him. Then, from the hilltop, they saw the tidal wave wash over the fields they had just left behind. Then in a flash, they realized what their salvation had cost the rice farmer. They later erected a monument to his memory bearing the motto, "He gave us all he had, and gave gladly".

In that village, there were probably many good and kind-hearted people who had rescued others from desperate or dangerous or life-threatening situations. Yet, this poor farmer finished first in the eyes of his community because it had cost him the most treasured possession he had. There are not many people in our world like this farmer. Most people do everything they can to better themselves, and think little of the people whom they push behind as they get to the top and succeed. They ignore, hurt, and step over others in their frantic attempts to climb the ladder of fame, popularity, recognition and success. You may have had similar experiences in your own work places.

Today's gospel text teaches us that not everyone who finishes first is recognized great and victorious. Sometimes, those who take the last seat, those who willingly finish last, are the real winners in the game of life. Greatness is not found at where we stand, but in what we do, and it will cost the person a high price. We learn from the gospels that the 12 disciples of Jesus were ordinary and humble men and, yet, they were also hankering after power, position and honour. On several occasions, Jesus sought to combat that mentality. For example, in the Gospel reading a few weeks ago we read when the disciples had argued among themselves as to who was the greatest, Jesus told them that only those who "have faith like a child" and give themselves to advance the kingdom of God on earth is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Mark (9:32-37).

The disciples, particularly James and John, apparently did not get the message. They certainly believed that Jesus was the Messiah, and that He was going to establish His kingdom when they reached Jerusalem. Hence, they wanted to secure themselves positions of authority in His kingdom. They approached Jesus with a demanding request - to grant them whatever they would ask of Him. And Jesus was not taken aback as we might expect if someone made such a demanding request; rather, He asked them in a gentle way as to what they wanted Him to do for them. They asked Jesus to grant them the privilege to sit on either side of Him.

By this request, they were in fact asking for three specific things: pre-eminence, proximity and power. In other words, they first wanted the glory and honour that came from being elevated to a throne. Second, they wanted to be close to Jesus. And third, they wanted the power and authority that a throne represents. In some sense, Jesus had already given them the power to go out to preach and raise the dead and heal the sick and cast out demons.

Now, one might ask, what made them think that they could ask for such things? There are three probable reasons why they made such a request:

  • They based their request on their relationship to Jesus. In the parallel passage in Matthew it appears that Salome, the mother of James and John, made the appeal first, Matthew (20:20-21). A common interpretation identifies Salome as the sister of Jesus' mother, thus making her Jesus' aunt and James and John were His first cousins, Matthew (20:20, 27:56); Mark (15:40, 16:1). So, their closeness to Jesus as family members likely made them think of such a request.

  • These two disciples, along with Peter, considered themselves a part of Jesus' trusted inner circle. There are quite a few incidents, where, including transfiguration, only these three disciples were witnesses. So, they probably sought to use their familiarity with Jesus to ask for places of honour.

  • They were merely claiming the promise Jesus had already made to the disciples where each would receive a throne to judge as kings the twelve tribes of Israel, Matthew (19:28). So, they were only asking for what had already been promised. There was nothing wrong with that. That was also, perhaps, the reason why Jesus did not rebuke them for their request. Instead, He responded to their request by telling them that they had no idea what they were asking for. And then He pressed James and John further by asking if they would also be willing to drink the cup which He would drink and to be baptized with the baptism with which He would be baptized.

Here, Jesus has used two metaphors: the "cup" and the "baptism". Biblical scholar, William Barclay, explains these two metaphors in this way:

  • In the time of Jesus, it was the custom at royal banquets for the king to hand the cup filled with wine to his special guests a sign of respect and friendship. The cup therefore became a common metaphor for life experience that God handed out to human beings. For example, when speaking of a life and experience of happiness given to him by God, the Psalmist employs the same metaphor saying, "My cup overflows", Psalm (23:5). And when he was thinking of divine judgment against human wickedness and disobedience, the Psalmist also uses the same metaphor saying, "In the hand of the Lord there is a cup", Psalm (75:8).

    Prophet Isaiah draws on the same metaphor, when he was thinking of the disasters which had come upon the people of Israel, and describes them as having drunk "at the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath", Isaiah (51:7). So, applying the metaphor to Himself, Jesus was saying that He would bear the wrath of God's judgment against sin in place of sinners, Mark (10:45, 14:36, 15:34). In other words, Jesus would voluntarily and joyfully drink the cup of suffering given Him by God the Father. So also must His disciples drink of the cup if they expect to reign with Him in His kingdom.

  • The use of "baptism" in parallel with "cup" indicates that it is also a metaphor for suffering. It has nothing to do with technical baptism. The Greek verb baptizein means "to dip" or "to submerge". Its past participle bebaptismenos means submerged, and it regularly used of being submerged in any experience. For example, being submerged in debt or drink or sorrow and so on. So, what Jesus was asking the disciples was that whether they would be willing to go through the terrible experience which He would go through; whether they would be willing to submerge in suffering, darkness and humiliation as He would.

At this point the disciples had no idea what awaited Jesus. He, of course, was speaking of his suffering and death, which they eventually would share in at a later time, but at that stage of their development they were thinking that to be aligned with Jesus meant fame, fortune, importance, power and authority. They did not yet understand that the Messiah, to reach His glory, would first have to drink the cup of suffering on behalf of mankind, and that great privilege comes at a great price and there can be no crown without a cross. And yet, they replied that they could.

Their response reveals a complete lack of understanding concerning what Jesus was about to suffer and of the burden He was sent to carry. When they told Jesus that they could drink His cup and endure His baptism, Jesus affirmed that indeed they would drink the same cup and would be baptized with the same baptism but granting positions in the kingdom depends on the will of sovereign God, Mark (10:38-39). Jesus' prediction came true, as the eleven of the twelve disciples died a martyr's death and James was the first of the apostles to be martyred. He was beheaded by Herod Agrippa and, though John was probably not martyred, he suffered much for Christ, Acts (12:2).

When other disciples heard what James and John did, they reacted angrily. They were angry either because they did not like that the two were trying to promote themselves over the rest or because they felt that James and John sought Jesus before they could. Whatever the reason, they were angry. Their reaction to what James and John did was no better than the request James and John made. Jesus did not allow their anger to simmer. He addressed the issue at hand and called their attention to the Gentile world around them. He pointed out how the heathens, when they are raised to pre-eminence, use their power and authority harshly and severely in order to achieve their own ends and purposes, and aspire to leadership positions and the highest offices only as their motives. Such ambition is earthly, unspiritual, and motivated by the devil, and wholly alien from the spirit of Christ.

That is to say that seeking a position and status and power is the way of the world and those who rule in this world rise to the top by grabbing power and oppressing their opponents but Jesus' disciples should not be so. Instead, Jesus told them that if they really wanted to be great, they should conduct themselves modestly and humbly and serve others - just as He came not to be served but to serve humanity by giving His life for all, Mark (10:42-45). Thus, Jesus taught them all alike, whether superiors or inferiors, must strive to reach heaven, so as to sit at the right or left hand of Christ in His kingdom, by the way of humility and service. Therefore, those who are the lowliest and most humble here on earth will be the greatest and most exalted in heaven.

What lessons we can learn from this gospel story?

  • Like James and John, we sometimes also approach the Lord with a demanding request - to grant us whatever we ask of Him. Of course, as God's children and heirs, we can joyfully ask Him for anything we need. Our Lord Jesus Himself encourages us to bring our requests to God in prayer. In fact, He further says that everyone who asks receives, not just some. He said, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened", Matthew (7:7-8).

    However, Jesus does not promise us anything and everything we want but rather good things. He said, "If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him", Matthew (7:11). So, while we confidently approach God for all things, we must also be willing to pray and wait for Him to answer them in the way He deems fit.

  • When we lay our requests before Him, like the first disciples, we should be also willing to endure anything - rejection, ridicule, scorn, contempt, humiliation, pain, hardships and so on. It is not that we should seek our ways to suffer, but we should be willing to suffer if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ.

  • Our world is full of people who seek power and influence to use for their own good, and to use their positions of authority to abuse, exploit, overpower and control people around them. We see that mentality all around us. We can even find that situation in our community and in our church. But Jesus reminds us that it should not be so among us. If we are in authority over anyone, we as Christians must serve others, and all of our work should be centred on service to others.

  • There is no service without sacrifice and every sacrifice we do out of love for others is a great service for them. For example, a visit to a sick person in the neighbourhood or hospital is an act of service at the cost of sacrificing our time.

  • If we want to be recognized and respected as great persons, we must give up all selfishness and pride. Instead, we must be ambitious for higher gifts; we must live out our days serving others. If we really want to reach the top, we must start out at the bottom. If we really want to be a leader, we must first learn how to serve.

  • Jesus Himself is the greatest leadership role model for us because He willingly "emptied" Himself. He loves us so much that He sacrificed for us, the sinners, everything He had, even His life.

(P) Amen.

God Bless You!

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