Jesus isn’t asking for your vote: He is pouring out his life for you, in mercy and grace

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29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B: Oct. 21, 2012
Isa 53:10-11; Ps 33; Heb 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45

  • Five weeks ago, we heard the first time in the Gospel of Mark when Jesus told his disciples about his coming Passion (8:31). Peter had just confessed that Jesus was the Messiah; and then, after Jesus tells them that he will suffer and die and rise again, Peter begins to rebuke him.
  • Four weeks ago, we heard the second time that he told them about his Passion (9:31). That time, they were too afraid to ask him any questions, but instead took to discussing among themselves who was the greatest.
  • And in our Gospel reading today, Jesus has just predicted his Passion a third time, in greater detail than before. And how do they respond? James and John come to him and ask him for a favor: that in his glory they might sit one at his right and the other at his left.

They don’t seem to be getting the message! The disciples still seem to be fixed on the idea that Jesus as Messiah is going to lead an earthly revolution, to win an earthly victory, and establish an earthly kingdom. And, either on thrones alongside his, or in seats at the Messianic banquet alongside his, James and John hope to be soaking in the power and the glory that they expect will soon be surrounding Jesus the Messiah.

You might say that James and John are running for office. Only the electorate here isn’t a country of 300 million; but just one. And they aren’t making lots of promises about just what they will do once in office, and making lots of accusations about their opponents; they’re just asking for one big favor: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Indeed, in Matthew’s very similar account, they get their mother to do the asking! (Matt 20:20) They want those positions of power and glory!

And Jesus understands. He knows all about rulers who lord it over their people and make their authority over them felt. But that is not what he was about. Our Lord Jesus had not come into the world to gain an office. He had not come to take or receive something from us. Rather, he had come to do something for us; to give us something that we desperately needed, and could never gain on our own. He said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The Son of Man did not come to take, but to give.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen once wrote (Life of Christ, p. 9):

Christ, the Son of God, did not come into this world to live. He came into it to die. Death was the goal of His Life, the gold that He was seeking…. for him… the seed must fall to the ground and die before it springs forth to new life…

It was for our sake that he allowed himself to be crushed, as we heard Isaiah prophesy. It was for our redemption, that he endured affliction, suffering, and death. Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed. (Isa 53:5)

  • Barack Obama was not crushed for your sins or pierced for your offenses.
  • Mitt Romney does not give his own Body and Blood as spiritual food for eternal life.
  • Neither one of them has loved you with an everlasting love (Jer 31:3); but Jesus has.

The Catechism tells us (616):

It is love “to the end” that confers on Christ’s sacrifice its value as redemption and reparation, as atonement and satisfaction. He knew and loved us all when he offered his life. … No man, not even the holiest, was ever able to take on himself the sins of all men and offer himself as a sacrifice for all. The existence in Christ of the divine person of the Son, who at once surpasses and embraces all human persons, and constitutes himself as the Head of all mankind, makes possible his redemptive sacrifice for all.

The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve; he did not come to take, but to give. And just as he does not come to us like a candidate for public office seeking our vote; so he also does not subject us to the searing condemnation to which we subject our candidates. He does not try to catch us in a trap; to use our words against us; to tar us with past mistakes or weaknesses, or things our friends have said or done. No, as we heard in the Letter to the Hebrews, he is a high priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses, who has been tested in every way that we have, yet without sin. Our Lord Jesus understands perfectly our condition, because he united himself to us, to our human nature, and lived our human life with us. He knows our personal weaknesses, he knows our spiritual sickness and sin. But he was not sent to condemn us, but so that we might be saved through him. (John 3:17)

And so we are urged: Let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.

How do we approach the throne of grace? Where do we encounter the mercy of Christ? In many ways; but perhaps above all in confession, in the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. For here our Lord Jesus meets us one on one, in spiritual intimacy. We are able to unburden our hearts to him, to let it all pour out, with all of our sorrow for what we have done. And in that moment of truth, with no masks, no covering, he always meets us with mercy and love. Always.

We are surrounded by condemnation in the world; with accusations and attacks; with the need to be wary and defend ourselves. But not with our Lord Jesus. When we enter the confessional, we do not face the newspapers, the networks, the cable channels, or the bloggers; we meet our Lord Jesus Christ. And in him we find love, mercy, forgiveness; someone who believes in us; and the gift of grace to raise us back up on our feet and set us once again upon his path of goodness and holiness. May we accept his invitation; may we accept his embrace.

The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.

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