In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
One of the most painful things which we experience personally, individually, but also when we think of our communities, Christian or simply human, is the strange and unaccountable ways in which, at the greatest moments of life, we can be so small, or can be so far below the scenes in which we take part.
Today’s Gospel is so striking in this respect (Mark 10, 32-45). The Lord has just talked to His disciples of His coming Passion, He has spoken in no ambiguous way, clearly, underlying the painful moments of it, and He has concluded by just one word of victory, “and the Son of Man shall rise again”. And the disciples, — at that moment two of them, and, as we see from the rest of the chapter, all of them, — passed by all that was tragic in what He had to say; all they noticed is, ‘and He will rise again’. And they see here an answer to the question they have asked more than once: When shall Thou establish Thy Kingdom?
Here is the answer, it has got to be established presently; and forgetting at what cost it will be established, forgetting all that we call Passion Week, all its human horror and all the metaphysical tragedy, the disciples turn to Him and say, ’When the Kingdom shall be established let us (the Zebedee’s children) sit on the right and the left hand of Thy glory.’
And in the end the other disciples rebuked them. But is it because they have understood more? No, we read in the Gospel that on the evening of the Last Supper when Christ washes the feet of His disciples, He spoke to them about the same problem, and they were discussing who is greatest, who is first; in the face of the coming Passion, they still have thought for what they represented, what they were.
Is not that true for all of us singly, and for all of us collectively? Events around us are at times so tragic, so great, and we manage to be so small in the face of these events, just as small as our little person with its greed, with its self-centredness, with its concern with nothing but myself.
And when the disciples come up to Christ and beg Him to give them this privileged place in the Kingdom that will be bought at such a cost, Christ turns to them and say, ‘Are you prepared to be merged into what I am going to be merged?’ That is the meaning of baptism; in Greek ‘baptism’ means being merged, completely drowned in it, — are you prepared for that? Are you prepared to share all that is going to happen to Me, to the very point of drowning in it? Are you prepared to drink the cup which I am going to drink, to the last drop, to the dregs? — And so, confidently they say they are.
What about us? Do not we do that? Do not we do that so easily, and Christ gives them a promise, a promise which is two-sided; He says, ‘The cup which I will drink, you shall drink with Me, the baptism by which I shall be baptised you will be baptised also with. As to sitting on My right or My left hand, it is not for Me to give; it is for those to whom My Father will give it. On the one hand, yes, the Lord takes them up, He brings them back to the tragedy which is still to happen and not to the victory which is the only thing they have noticed so far, as though they were saying, ‘Yes, you shall suffer, you shall die but we know, after that has happened, victory will come to us’.
But on the other hand there is a bright, an encouraging side to these words; friendship, community of life does not consist in sharing with one another all that is good, all that is easy, all that is bright and light in life. Community of life consists in being so bound to another person or to each other, if it is a wider community of people, that one is prepared to share unreservedly, completely in all that happens to the other or to the others. What Christ is saying by taking them up in such a way is, ‘Who are you to Me, and who am I to you? Am I your friend, have I got this deep significance in your life that will mean that whatever matters to Me matters to you, whatever happens to Me you are prepared to share, or as I just one of the many incidental events of your life? Am I just him who will be killed for you to live? Who will have to suffer for you to rejoice? Who will have to endure humiliation and moral and physical suffering simply for you to have it better than you have had it? In that case, what is the link, what have we got in common?’
And this question, Christ is asking from us also, not only in the reading of the Gospel, but day after day, all the time, because all the time we are in the world to be, as it were, His presence. Christ sends His disciples as He says — we read in the Gospel of Saint John — as He was sent by His Father to do what He did, to endure perhaps what He had to endure. What is our position? Is it friendship? Is it community of life that Christ is offering us, are we taking it, and in particular when we receive communion?
Do we realise that what we prepare ourselves for, what we offer ourselves to is the readiness to share all of Christ, everything that is Christ, not only His glory, but also the way of the Cross, in great and in small things. When we receive communion we ask the Lord to make us partakers of all that is Him in history and in eternity, in earthly life and in eternal life; do we realise this?
Perhaps this is important for us to remember it this very Sunday, which for the West is the beginning of Passion Week, and which prepares us to face the Passion of Christ a week later.
Let us reflect on this because when it will come, it will no longer be time for us to think of ourselves, but of Him alone. But that, we will be able to do only if we have prepared ourselves to share with Him, not to say, ‘Death is yours, life shall be mine’. Amen.