by Father Mike Stubbs
The theologian Avery Dulles, in his book “Models of the Church,” proposed several ways to understand the purpose and activity of the church.
Among them, the model of the church as servant stands out in our consideration of Sunday’s Gospel reading, Mk 10: 35-45. In it, Jesus admonishes the disciples: “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”
As their master, Jesus will provide the disciples with an example to follow: “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus’ emphasis upon service drastically contrasts with the disciples’ desires. Two of them, James and John, have approached Jesus with a request that Jesus grant them positions of power and prestige in the kingdom that he will be establishing soon.
They do not understand the character of his kingdom. They also have missed the point of his predictions that he will have to suffer and die on the cross.
James and John are joined by the remaining disciples in their lack of comprehension about Jesus’ mission. The other disciples are angered by James’ and John’s request, not because it is inappropriate, but because James and John have beat them to the punch. The other disciples are just as ambitious, just not as quick.
The disciples’ misunderstanding about Jesus’ mission parallels their misunderstanding about the mission to which Jesus is calling them.
It is a life of service. Instead of being self-serving, instead of seeking power and glory for themselves, they are called to serve others. And, as it is for Jesus, that will mean sacrifice:
“Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
Drinking the cup and being baptized are both metaphors for suffering. In these words, Jesus is looking forward to his own passion and death on the cross. He is challenging the disciples as to whether they can share in his sufferings.
Through his sacrifice on the cross, Jesus will perform the supreme act of service. He will “give his life as a ransom for many.”
As we follow in the footsteps of Christ the servant, we also are called to make sacrifices in the service of others. That is part of our mission, as we take part in the work of Christ here on earth.