If you are looking at a particular sermon and it is removed it is because it has been updated.

For example Year C 2010 is being replaced week by week with Year C 2013, and so on.

Friday, 16 October 2015

29th Sunday Year B 2015

29th. Sunday of Year (B)

(Isaiah 53:10-11; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45)



This Sunday we have a matter of translation to consider first of all, but it does quickly lead to a most serious issue concerning Catholic spirituality which translators are not necessarily aware of:

Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;   whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.

That is our New American Bible Revised Version’s translation and it is a literal translation of the Church’s official Latin Vulgate text, as also of the original Greek Gospel.

However, certain other modern translations change the word ‘will’, future tense, to ‘must’, imperative.  Why?   Obviously, it would seem because that is what the scholars involved consider Jesus’ intention must (!) have been.  But does that then mean that -- in their view -- the evangelist himself, or perhaps even Peter the originating source of Mark’s Gospel, did not understand Jesus accurately enough?  Or rather, might it, in fact, be the case that those translators -- professional and learned scholars who without doubt do great work for the Gospel – have, as scholars sensitive to their international standing, to bear in mind such a multitude of technical facts and human opinions that they simply do not have the time – or the ability – to be able to appreciate and answer spiritual questions with a like excellence as shown in their professional capacity?   It is a question worth asking and considering, because professional exegetes today produce volumes of New Testament studies of such burdensome size, quoting the opinions of seemingly innumerable scholars often writing in their own language, that it is hardly possible for them to have read and understood as required all that they quote or refer to, let alone to have carefully weighed and pondered consequences and further issues that might be involved.

Let us therefore consider what the Evangelist, St. Mark, says in his Gospel as we have it today:

Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;   whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.

Notice first of all that Jesus is speaking privately to His chosen disciples, whom He knew intimately as regards both their individual characters and their personal love for and devotion to Himself; men who, indeed, He is in the very process of training as  His future Apostles:

Whoever wishes to be great among you will be... 

Many translators think that here Jesus means ‘must make yourself to be…’ a servant of the others; because to attain their object, their desire, their ambition, to be great they must (!) do something rather special … something that distinguishes and shows them to be ‘special’!  And surely we can understand that.

Yes, we can understand that because it is a normal, worldly, way of thinking.  But, precisely, here we are not considering the thought patterns of every-day human beings firmly ensconced in an ordinary worldly situation: we are thinking about men chosen by God, for their love of Jesus first of all, and for their spiritual sensitivities, responsiveness, and capabilities; and we are hearing words being spoken and training being given to them by Jesus, the ‘Word’ of God made flesh.

The translation ‘Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servantdemands that anyone of them harbouring such ambitions must do something to make himself  a suitable servant, worthy of such prominence; it demands in that way a measure of self-interest, self-seeking and, indeed, of self-appreciation.   Now that is most certainly not what Jesus wanted in His Apostles.

On the other hand our translation ‘Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant’, declares that any one of them with – that is, any one to whom God has given -- aspirations, hopes, prayers for such greatness, will be brought by God the Father to serve his brethren, either in actual physical service, or in self-sacrificing spiritual humility and fraternal commitment.  Now that is the way Jesus Himself lived in our regard: not choosing for Himself, but being led by His Father, just as our first reading, taken from the book of Isaiah, made so abundantly clear:

                The Lord was pleased to crush Him in infirmity;

                The will of the Lord shall be accomplished through Him.

And this attitude is incontrovertibly shown by Our Blessed Lord at His agony in the Garden when He said:

Abba, Father, all things are possible to You.  Take this cup away from Me; before adding, but not what I will but what You will. (Mark 14:36)

Let us therefore look back at the preposterous request made (according to Mark’s Gospel which vividly records Peter’s preaching) by James and John, sons of Zebedee:

                Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You!!

Matthew tries to make it more acceptable by saying the request was made by the mother of those two disciples … but the original indignation of their fellow apostles is surely most clearly witnessed to and justified by Mark’s account as remembered by Peter.

Therefore assuming Mark is accurate and James and John did make such an outrageous request of Jesus, the question arises, ‘Why did Jesus treat their request so seriously?’  And surely the answer must be, ‘Because He had something important to teach them from it.’  He is about to show them something essential for their understanding of themselves and of the ways of their God, His Father.

They were at that moment trying to express, in badly chosen words -- but also quite simply and humbly before Jesus -- what His Father was trying to inspire in them: an aspiration, in no circumstances whatsoever to be mistaken as an ambition.

Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;   whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.

Yes, you will be servants and slaves because My Father is trying to draw you along, guide you on, His way for you; but His will alone will be done in you, not your will for your own personal renown, not even your will for His renown.  His will will be done in you, and in His way.

Jesus took their preposterous but childishly innocent request seriously because they were indeed intended to become Apostles for the establishment of His Church and the Kingdom of God, and this childish folly and misunderstanding, this misinterpreting of His Father’s intentions in their regard, must and would be corrected: indeed in a certain measure it was being corrected at that very moment, by their deeply experienced and well-deserved embarrassment before the present company of Jesus and ‘the ten’, their indignant fellow Apostles-to-be.  They would have learnt so much about themselves and about God’s will for them in those words of Jesus!

Dear People of God, as we consider the history of Mother Church past and present, we can surely appreciate the superhuman task that faced and still faces the Twelve Apostles and their subsequent episcopal successors: the establishment of a cohesive Catholic Church: one in faith, morals, and obedience, throughout history and for all mankind.  They would indeed have the Gift of God, the Holy Spirit, sent them by Jesus and abiding with them as a Body, forming them as the very Body of Christ for the glory of God the Father and the salvation of all men and women of good will; but what immense difficulties would arise from many who, like James and John in our Gospel reading, would mistake (not so innocently as James and John however!) their own ambitions for God’s inspiration, God’s inviting and guiding grace.   How many souls would and will suffer from the overweening pride of individuals in powerful positions: be they bombastic, arrogant, and ambitious prelates or harsh and unbending mother superiors in tiny convents and schools or enjoying cherished power and treasured prestige at the head of large, national or international congregations.

Undoubtedly, the most important task in Catholic spirituality and the supreme need for the Church today is for men and women able to assume responsibility and exercise authority yet also to forget themselves as they seek to draw ever closer to, more centered on, and humble before, God: living to do His will and becoming ever more able to discern and distinguish His will from their own, and His glory from their own reputation or the acclamation of men.  How pathetic it is to hear chosen prelates apologizing for not being unknown Christians and Catholics, for not being women when needing to clarify and confirm Catholic teaching on the family.  They are anointed as CHRISTS for our times, passing down what they have themselves received: the teaching of Christ and the historically declared will of God for mankind’s salvation!!  They are placed in the centre of the world and the Church’s attention not for their own peaceful and popular passage when in office, nor merely for the good will and pleasure of all, to whatever degree or however remotely, concerned.  They are anointed Christs to proclaim the One Jesus Christ, as Jesus Himself encouraged them:

Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives the One Who sent Me.  (John 13:20)

Let them live up to such encouragement, to such a glorious promise, and stop fearing for self and hedging for popularity!