SERVICE – Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 24, Year B; Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (RC)

October 17, 2021

Revised Common Lectionary
Job 38:1-7 (34-41) or Isaiah 53:4-12
Psalm 104:1-9, 24 35b or Psalm 91:9-16
Hebrews 5:-1-10
Mark 10:35-45

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Isaiah 53:10-11
Psalm 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22 (22)
Hebrews 4:14-16
Mark 10:(35-41) 42-45

At the end of a particularly difficult day of ministry, I was looking forward to meeting up with a good friend for dinner. As we arrived at the restaurant and sat down, I poured out my heart and expressed how wounded I was feeling from the experiences of that day.

When I finished speaking, there was a moment of silence. I glanced over at my friend, hoping for a word of understanding. Instead, he looked around the dining room and said, “I think I’d be more comfortable in a booth.” I was deeply disappointed that his response seemed inattentive or insensitive—or both.

In today’s story from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus might well have been experiencing the same thing. Just prior to the passage we read today, he had taken the twelve aside and spoken to them for a third time about his impending arrest, humiliation, suffering, death, and resurrection (Mk 10:32-34).

One might expect them to have caught on by the third time, but not a word of response is spoken by any of the disciples. Instead, James and John come forward with a demand: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask you” (10:35). After having just heard Jesus predict that he would soon face execution, the brothers proceed to make their breathtakingly clueless request: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (10:37).

Little did they know that soon Jesus would fulfill his mission not on a throne but on the cross, and that those on his right and left would be criminals also hanging on crosses. Surely, they had no idea what they were agreeing to as they answered eagerly that they could drink the same cup and share the same baptism as Jesus.

As he does so often, Jesus turns the request from James and John upside down. Yes, he assures them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized you will be baptized” (10:39). He takes the opportunity then to teach his band of followers that in the reign of God, greatness is expressed in service. As leaders, they are to be servants of all, just as Jesus himself came “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (10:45).

Those who first heard this story likely knew James and John as revered figures who had indeed poured themselves out in self-emptying service for the sake of the Gospel. Although they and the other disciples are portrayed by Mark as a both obtuse and resistant to Jesus’ teachings, we who recount these stories today can take comfort in knowing that they eventually grew in their understanding and went on to give of themselves in just the way that Jesus taught them.

Like James and John, we all relish recognition. Today’s Gospel challenges us to open our ears, minds, and hearts to the needs of those around us and to seek greatness in service rather than in status. Our baptism into Christ has made us all sharers in his mission to serve others in a spirit of self-sacrificing love. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper and drink the cup, we express our solidarity with the One who came “to give his life a ransom for many” (10:45).

A Hymn for Today: “Lord, Whose Love in Humble Service”

British hymn writer and Congregationalist minister Albert F. Bayly created this text in response to a search conducted by The Hymn Society and the Department of Social Welfare of the National Council of Churches (USA) in 1961. Bayly’s hymn expresses the intimate relationship between worship and service in a way that is consistent with the last verse of today’s Gospel reading: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Lord, whose love in humble service
Bore the weight of human need,
Who upon the cross, forsaken,
Offered mercy’s perfect deed:
We, your servants, bring the worship
Not of voice alone, but heart,
Consecrating to your purpose
Ev’ry gift that you impart.

Still the children wander homeless,
Still the hungry cry for bread.
Still the captives long for freedom,
Still in grief we mourn our dead.
As you, Lord, in deep compassion,
Healed the sick and freed the soul,
Use the love your Spirit kindles
Still to save and make us whole.

As we worship, grant us vision,
Till your love’s revealing light
In its height and depth and greatness
Dawns upon our human sight,
Making known the needs and burdens
Your compassion bids us bear,
Stirring us to faithful service,
Your abundant life to share.

Called from worship into service,
Forth in your great name we go
To the child, the youth, the aged,
Love in living deeds to show,
Hope and health, goodwill and comfort,
Counsel, aid, and peace we give
That your children, Lord, in freedom,
May your mercy know, and live.

Text: Albert F. Bayly, 1901-1984, alt., © Oxford University Press. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857

Image Credit: Christ Washing the Feet of His Disciples, unknown artist, Wikimedia Commons

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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