October 14, 2009

Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time

By Brian Pizzalato *

First ReadingIs. 53:10-11

Responsorial PsalmPs. 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22

Second ReadingHeb. 4:14-16

Gospel ReadingMk. 10:35-45


Jesus, in this Sunday’s Gospel reading from Mark, predicts his suffering for the third and final time. This time, however, he does so in a bit of a different way by using the language of “cup” and “baptism” to reference his forthcoming sufferings.


After James and John ask Jesus to be seated at his right and left hand when he comes into his glory, Jesus responds, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:38). Dr. Mary Healy notes, in her book The Gospel of Mark, “In the Old Testament, a cup is a metaphor for what God has in store for someone, whether a cup of blessing or, more frequently, the cup of his wrath. Jesus has the latter in mind, since ‘drinking the cup’ symbolizes his accepting of the full brunt of God’s judgment on sin” (p. 212).


With regard to the cup there is Psalm 75: “…But it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another. For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, with foaming wine, well mixed; and he will pour a draught from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs” (vv. 7-8). The there is also the prophet Jeremiah: “For thus says the Lord: ‘If those who did not deserve to drink the cup must drink it, will you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, but you must drink” (49:12).


Also, in the Old Testament “Immersion in water is a biblical image for overwhelming calamity” (Healy, p. 213). One need only think of the great flood of Noah’s day, or the crossing of the Red Sea and the destruction of the Egyptian army. The Psalmist prays, “They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in upon me together” (88:17).


All of this language is of course pointing to Jesus’ suffering, and ultimately his death. James and John ask about being seated as his right and left hand when he comes into his glory. What they don’t realize is that Jesus begins his glorious reign from the cross. Dr. Healy notes, “Only on Golgotha will the deep irony of their request become clear: those at the right and left hand of the Messiah-King are the two thieves crucified with him” (p. 213).


Jesus then goes on to tell James and John that they will indeed share in his cup and baptism. They were thinking in earthly terms, but they must see things in heavenly terms. They want the power and prestige of sitting at the kings right and left hand. However, they are called to be Christ-like. Jesus’ power was made manifest in weakness. “He reveals that the only way to greatness, paradoxically, is by imitating him in his humble, self-emptying love” (Healy, p. 214). Jesus “did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).


Jesus giving “his life as a ransom for many” connects us directly with the Old Testament reading from Isaiah about the coming suffering servant of the Lord. “…Through his suffering, my servant shall justify man, and their guilt he shall bear” (Isaiah 53:11). What Jesus will undergo falls within the plan of divine providence as prophesied by Isaiah. As it says in Isaiah, “…the will of the Lord shall be accomplished through him” (53:10).


With this idea of ransom we must remember to what this is referring. “The idea of ransom expresses a price that is paid on someone’s behalf; for instance, to free a slave (Leviticus 25:51) or to save someone whose life is in jeopardy (Exodus 21:30). God is often said in the Old Testament to have ransomed his people from slavery to Egypt or exile in Babylon (Deuteronomy 7:8; Isaiah 35:10), and the Jewish hope was that God would definitely ransom his people from sin and death (Psalm 130:7; Isaiah 59:20; Hosea 13:14; Luke 24:21)…Jesus can give his own life, a gift of infinite value, in exchange for us” (Healy, p. 214).


The ransoming that Jesus will accomplish is not for himself, but “for” many, which is a Hebrew way of saying a vast multitude. The love and sacrifice of Christ is selfless, not selfish. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrow…he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed…the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6).

Brian Pizzalato is the Director of Catechesis, R.C.I.A. & Lay Apostolate, Diocese of Duluth and is a faculty member of the Philosophy department of the Maryvale Institute, Birmingham, England.

Brian writes a monthly column, “Veritatis Splendor,” for The Northern Cross of the Diocese of Duluth and his 33-part series on the sacraments for The Northern Cross have also been posted on Catholic News Agency's website, where he also authors a weekly column, “Road to Emmaus,” on the Sunday Readings, (which are translated into Romanian and posted on www.profamilia.ro).

Pizzalato is currently authoring the regular series, "Catechesis and Contemporary Culture," in The Sower, published by the Maryvale Institute. He is also author of the Philosophy of Religion course book for the B.A. in Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition at the Maryvale Institute.

Brian holds an M.A. in Theology and Christian Ministry with a Catechetics specialization and an M.A. in Philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. Brian currently pursuing an M.A. in Biblical Studies at the Augustine Institute in Denver, CO as well as being a Ph.D. candidate at the Maryvale Institute. Brian is married and has six children.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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