Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Isaiah 53:10-11
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 33:4-5, 18-20, 22
Second Reading: Letter to the Hebrews 4:14-16
Gospel: According to St. Mark 10:35-45
“What puts the ape in ape-ricot? Courage!”
A brilliant line from a monologue of Shakespearean proportions, served up with gusto by Bert Lahr in the 1939 film classic The Wizard of Oz. The Cowardly Lion, without the assistance of tigers and bears, is an image of the human person who is paralyzed into non-action because of fear.
We all have fears. Some fears are illogical, like the fear of the 13th floor of a building – these folks should remember never to book a room on the 14th floor of a hotel. And some fears are logical, like a fear of the effects of heroin on mind, body, and soul.
Fear is a necessary part of life, and when we overcome our fears we are being courageous. If someone has a fear of flying, but is willing to get on a plane in order to visit a sick relative, then that person is courageous. If someone has a fear of public speaking, but is willing to give the eulogy for a deceased loved one, then that person is courageous. In each case there was a reason to overcome the fear – love. When we love people we are willing to close our eyes and – metaphorically, at least – jump out of the plane.
“Can you drink the cup that I drink?”
When Jesus asks this question of James and John He is really asking them if they are courageous enough to overcome their fears and act not out of self-interest or pride ("Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left."), but out of love (“whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant”).
It takes courage to serve, to sacrifice oneself for another. We are so often taught to claw and scratch our way to the top. We are told that it is a dog-eat-dog world. We are told that the person who comes in second is the first loser. We are told to ‘do it’ and ‘just win, baby.’
Jesus proposes a view that differs a bit from that of Madison Avenue and Wall Street. Courage is service to others, even – or especially – when we might lose something in the process. We can all think of movies or television shows where one of the ‘cool’ kids befriends one of the ‘nerds’ and loses her or his status among the elite of their school. And, of course, it all works out well in the end for the gutsy teen because that’s how these things are supposed to end.
But Jesus never proposes that this will be the conclusion of serving and reaching out to the marginalized.
“The cup that I drink, you will drink” is not a red Solo cup in the last scene of a movie or show when all of the cool kids take their friend back and accept the nerd. This is a different cup, and one that has a much different ending.
Jesus and the saints have shown us that serving others can get you into some long term difficulties that sometimes can get you killed. This was the case for James, although for John it was merely exile. Either way, it was not a Hollywood ending.
But both James and John had courage, and if he could, the Cowardly Lion would have spoken to them in a way that would certainly be seconded by Jesus.
No, it’s not “What makes the muskrat guard his musk?” It’s “What makes a king out of a slave?”
How ironic that we become royalty in the eyes of Christ when we act as servants. Courage!