Sunday sermon for October 17, 2021, the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Readings: Is 53:10-11; Heb 4:14-16; Mk 10:35-45

In the Gospel reading today our Lord tells us that He came to serve, not to be served.  This service is one of charity, the highest form of love.  As such, He gives Himself freely without looking for or expecting anything in return.  This is the nature of love, but the nature of love is also that it is reciprocal.  Love gives without seeking anything in return, but love is also a relationship in which both are to give and both are to receive. 

The context of our Lord telling His Apostles that He came to serve rather than be served was when James and John were self-seeking and asked our Lord that they might be seated on His right and on His left in His Kingdom.  When the others heard their request, they became indignant.  Could it be they were angry because these two brothers were seeking what the others wanted for themselves?  Were the others angry because the two brothers were exalting themselves above the rest?

Our Lord teaches us in both word and example that the greatest among us is the one who serves the rest.  St. Paul teaches the Philippians that Jesus, though He was God, did not deem equality with God something to be grasped.  Rather, St. Paul says Jesus took the form of a slave and was born as one of us.  Our Lord’s entire existence was and is one of humility.  His perfect humility is expressed in His perfect charity.

The self-seeking of these two Apostles can be of great benefit for us.  I say this because the way they approached our Lord is very similar to the approach many take today: “We want You to give us whatever we ask.”  Jesus loves us, so He serves us and provides only what is best for us.  The problem, however, with the approach of these Apostles, and of ourselves if we find ourselves like them, is that they did not want to receive what Jesus was giving; rather, they wanted to receive what they desired. 

The wonderful thing about the exchange between our Lord and His Apostles is that Jesus calls the Apostles to something far greater than what they were seeking.  True, they wanted the highest places in His Kingdom, but the only way to obtain those positions is to have the greatest love.  Jesus calls the brothers to love God and souls as He does.  If they can accept this calling, they can grow in love and, perhaps, be granted the seats they seek.  The difference is that they would no longer be seeking the higher position; if they receive it from the Lord, that would be great, if not, they will be able to peacefully accept that.

So, what does Jesus extend to the Apostles by calling them to love God and neighbor?  He calls them to participate in His redemptive work.   He gives them the grace to be baptized with the baptism He will receive and to drink from the cup He Himself will drink.  This is not merely a call to share in His suffering; Jesus is calling them to share in the love which bears the suffering and brings great good from the suffering.

In the first reading, the Prophet Isaiah tells us what the Messiah’s suffering is about: He will give His life as an offering for sin, He will justify many, and He will bear the guilt of the people.  In calling James and John to participate in this suffering, our Lord is extending that call to you and me as well.  He is calling us to overcome our selfishness and to share in His love. 

If we are willing to participate in the love and the work of our Lord, we will be granted a glorious place in His Kingdom.  St. Paul tells us in the second reading that Jesus has passed through the heavens.  As our High Priest, He is seated in glory with His Father.  St. Paul further tells us how Jesus is able to sympathize with our weaknesses because He was tested as we are but never sinned.  This means He is patient with us, but He is also generous with us by offering us the means that will best help us to overcome our weaknesses.

If our weakness is selfishness, which it is for almost everyone, then He offers us the opportunity to drink from the cup from which He drinks.  We might bristle at the thought of bearing the guilt of others, but if we can be conformed to the humility and charity of our Lord, we will not see it as offensive or oppressive, but as a privilege.  To do this, we must humble ourselves and work to serve others with charity rather than desiring to be served.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit