“Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be the first among you must be a slave of all” by Fr. John Muscat, OFM

In today’s 1st reading from second-Isaiah, we have a reference to the
servant of God, as this prophet called the future Messiah. It is God’s will that the Servant should suffer and offer himself as a sin-sacrifice for mankind. But his life will not really end in death, it will be given back to him again. He shall see the fruit of his sufferings in the many righteous ones whose iniquities he will bear.

This prophecy had its literal fulfillment in Christ This is testified by all four gospels. It is not so much the fact that one might be tempted to question, but rather the reason, the necessity, why it had to be thus. Could not God have found other ways of bringing men to heaven without subjecting his divine Son to humiliations and sufferings?

God alone has the full and satisfying answer to this question, and
part of our joy in heaven will be to learn the answers to this and to other theological questions, which trouble us on earth. Both the Old and New Testaments indicate at least a partial answer to this particular question, when they tell us this was an effect of God’s infinite love for us. We, of course, can form no adequate idea of what infinite love is and does. But even finite love, if true and meaningful, can and does go to great extremes for the sake of those loved.

The readings of the gospel for these last Sundays were all a build-up
and revelation of the mission of Jesus to his apostles. Jesus had just given his apostles the third prediction of the sufferings and death that awaited him in Jerusalem. These predictions fell on deaf ears as far as his apostles were concerned. Two of their leaders, James and John, came forward to ask him for the principal places in the glorious kingdom, they were sure he was going to set up when they reached Jerusalem. He was gentle with them for he knew they had not yet grasped that his kingdom was not of this world. He told them that if they would have a place in his kingdom they must imitate the sacrifice he was about to make to establish that kingdom – the path to glory is through suffering. Then he added that the leaders in his kingdom would not lord it over others as the Gentiles did; instead they would be the servants of those whom they would lead.

Our own natural inclination most likely would be to react like the other ten apostles and become vexed with James and John and to tell them what we thought of their selfish worldly ambitions. However, our Lord’s gentle answer: “you do not know what you are asking” shows us that ignorance of the nature of the kingdom he was going to set up, was the cause of their very human ambitions. They, with the other apostles, had still the common Jewish idea of the messianic kingdom. They thought the Messiah—and they were now convinced that Jesus was the promised Messiah-s-would set up a political kingdom in Palestine, oust the pagan Romans and eventually extend his kingdom to all nations. That this kingdom he would set up would be universal, extending to all nations, was indicated in almost all the, messianic prophecies in the Old Testament; but that this kingdom would be spiritual not political, was not grasped by most of Christ’s contemporaries including the apostles.

Jesus, knowing that his apostles still had this wrong idea, was gentle with James and John. He took this opportunity to tell them that he would set up a glorious kingdom but that his sufferings and death would be a necessary prelude to its establishment. He had already referred to his sufferings and death three times, but the mention fell on deaf ears. Their argument was: how could he suffer death when he has still to establish his earthly kingdom? The truth in fact was that it was by means of his sufferings and death that he would establish his glorious kingdom. He challenged the two apostles then to know if they were willing to pay the price for a high place in his glorious kingdom; were they prepared to follow him through suffering and death? He accepted their affirmation, knowing it to be true, but told them their position of honor depended on his Father’s decision. Once they realized the nature of his glorious kingdom, they would be the last to look for positions of honor in it.

With James and John, let us tell our divine Lord that we are ready to follow him on the path to Calvary; that we are ready to drink the cup of sufferings which he drank and to be immersed in the sorrows which he endured. He went through all of this for us; we are doing it for our own sakes. He carried the real cross—ours is light when compared with his; furthermore, he will help us to bear our daily trial and struggles.

as published on October 21, 2012, Parish Bulletin
More of Fr. John’s reflections