29th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 21, 2018
Saint Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Isaiah 53:10-11; Psalm 33:4-5, 18-20, 22; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45
This past week, Fr. Blick and I attended the clergy conference with the Bishop and all of the other priests from the diocese of Wichita. Every year there is a theme for the conference, and this year the theme focused on the Bishop’s pastoral plan for the diocese. And if you have seen the stewardship posters for this year, they focus our attention on the core of the Bishop’s vision, because, in essence, the Bishop’s vision is that all of us, all of the faithful in the diocese of Wichita may become Fully Alive as Missionary Disciples! Fully Alive: permeated, imbued, radiating with the life that only comes from a life lived in relationship with Jesus Christ, a life invigorated and renewed by his Holy Spirit. Missionary Disciples: students and companions of the Lord ready to be sent out and share the joy of this new life with others. And the Bishop didn’t just make this up, he didn’t pull this out of thin air! No, this vision for our diocese comes directly from the mouth of Jesus himself! As we read in Saint John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full!”
And deep down, this is what we all want. I mean, if someone came up and asked you if you would like to have everything you ever wanted, if you would like to have all of your wildest dreams come true…well, first of all, you probably wouldn’t believe him, you’d be skeptical! As you should be! And that is exactly how the disciples of Jesus were in the beginning. This man Jesus from Nazareth showed up and started promising exactly this. And of course, people were skeptical, but they were also incredibly interested. I mean, it’s like buying a lottery ticket right now: your odds are about 1 in 300,000,000, but there is about a billion dollars you could win. Sure, you’re skeptical, but hey! If it pans out…
In our Gospel today, this is exactly what the disciples are getting at. James and John—the sons of thunder, two bold disciples—they decide that they are going to ask for it all. They walk up to Jesus and just ask, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you” (Mark 10:35). And then they go for it! “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left” (Mark 10:37). In other words, “Lord, we don’t just want to share your life, or to have a place in your kingdom, but we want the highest place next to you! We want it all!” Now, like the other disciples we can get a little indignant at this kind of request. Because it seems out of line. But really, this is exactly what we need to be asking for! We should not be afraid to set our sights higher (c.f., Gaudete et Exultate 34)!
And also notice: Jesus doesn’t correct them, and he doesn’t get mad at them! These disciples are on the right path, they realize what Jesus can offer and they are chomping at the bit to receive it all! But, what Jesus does tell them is what they must do to inherit this life. He asks them, “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:38). Really, what he is saying is, “Listen, this is great and you’re on the right track! I can see your desire for the life I am offering. I can see that you understand that I offer the fullness of life. But gentlemen, the road to sit on my right and on my left is a difficult one.” What does Jesus mean when he says they will have to drink from the cup, or be baptized with his baptism? He is asking them, “Are you ready to die with me?” In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus refers to his passion and death as the “cup” he must drink (c.f., Mark 14:36); his baptism is, again, a reference to his passion.
This is what all of our readings for today are getting at: the path to the fullness of life, to the place of glory, does not happen by accident or by luck; we do not stumble upon the greatest things in life. No, as we all know, the greatest things in life also involve the greatest sacrifice. You want to be the best in your field of work, in your profession? You better be willing to work for it. You want the joys of family life? That comes with challenges and suffering galore.
Some of you may say, “Well, what about the lottery? One billion dollars with no suffering at all!” Well, hold your horses. You still have to fork over two dollars. And if you win…if you win, that’s when the real suffering starts. Go look up the stories of people who win these jackpots: usually, they can’t deal with it. They go bankrupt because they don’t know how to manage this amount of money; they are miserable because all of the simple pleasures in life just aren’t the same any more; some even become suicidal. Again, we all want the fullness of life! But as our Lord points out, this doesn’t come for free; the greatest things in life involve sacrifice.
Fully Alive as Missionary Disciples: this is what our Lord, this is what our Bishop is calling us to! But this will not happen by accident or by dumb luck. First and foremost, it involves becoming a disciples of Jesus Christ. As Saint Mark’s Gospel makes clear, the prerequisite for being sent (missio) by Jesus (6:7) is being with Jesus (3:14); before all else, we must be with him, be in his presence, listen to him, develop a deep and intimate relationship and companionship with him. Going to mass, daily reading and meditation on the scriptures, adoration—soon with our own adoration chapel—prayer as a family: these are all indispensable! Because only by becoming his disciples can we begin to experience the fullness of the life he offers, and only then are we going to have any reason to go out (missio) and share this with others.
When Bishop Kemme tells us that as a diocese we are on a path to become Fully Alive as Missionary Disciples, he isn’t calling us down an easy path. No, this will involve drinking the cup from which Jesus drank, being baptized with the baptism with which he was baptized; this journey will involve suffering, difficulties, putting to death in ourselves and in our lives many things which hold us back. This is not something we can do on our own! And so like Jesus Christ himself, like him who is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses” and who was “tested in every way” (c.f., Hebrews 4:15), we must rely on the Spirit!
We have all been baptized. And baptism isn’t a nice ceremony or naming ritual. No, baptism is our dying and rising with Christ into the life of the Spirit! And it is this same Spirit which constantly calls our from within, calls out and begs for the Father (Romans 8:15). It is this Spirit which we can rely upon to give us the strength. This is exactly what our Lord did. He himself begged that the cup would be taken from him, that he could walk another way, that the glory of the resurrection and the fullness of life could be gained without the passion and suffering of the cross. But in the end, what did he say, “Father, not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). Our Lord accepted the cup, he accepted the suffering, the struggle, the difficulty of attaining the fullness of life. And through this path, the fullness of life was won.
My dear brothers and sisters: our greatest temptation in all of this will be to sit on our laurels, to be complacent, to think, “Eh, I pray and go to mass and confession. I’m not going to hell, I’m fine. Worst comes to worst, I may just spend a little extra time in Purgatory.” But what kind of life is that? Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full!” And this life starts now! We have already died and risen with him! As we heard in the Gospel last week, Jesus is offering “a hundred times more now in this present age” (Mark 10:29), not just after we die! He is offering us the first fruits of this life now and calling us to go out and share this good news with others.
Becoming Fully Alive as Missionary Disciples is not an easy path, but it is without doubt what the Spirit is calling us to in this time. What a gift we are being offered! The Fullness of Life! Let us be bold, like Jame and John in our gospel today, in asking for it all. And let us not shy away from the path this involves, for our Lord continues to walk it with us, nourishing, strengthening and transforming us each Sunday as we feed upon his very body and blood which were poured out on the cross. Here in the Eucharist, we find our strength and our comfort; here in the Eucharist is Jesus’ very passion present again; here in the Eucharist is the source of our life.