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29th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle B)

Readings:
Isaiah 53:10-11
Psalm 33:4-5, 18-20, 22
Hebrews 4:14-16
Mark 10:35-45

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of the Readings: Taking up the Cup
Taking up the cup is one of the reoccurring symbolic images of the Old Testament prophets.  Drinking the best wine is the image of perfect covenant unity between God and His people who drink from the cup of salvation (e.g., Ps 116:13).  But when the covenant people apostatize from the covenant and their faith in God, their rebellion is symbolized as drunkenness and God's judgment is symbolized as drinking the "cup of God's wrath" (e.g., Is 51:17, 22; Jer 25:15). 

The First Reading is a prelude to the Gospel Reading.  The First Reading describes the willing suffering of God's Servant who drank the "cup of God's wrath" on behalf of a sinful mankind—it is God's Servant who "shall justify many and their guilt he shall bear", freeing those he has justified of the burden of their sins.  In the Gospel Reading, the Apostles James and John Zebedee do not understand what Jesus is asking of them when He asks if they are able to "drink from my cup" (Mt 20:22; Mk 10:38-39).   They think He is speaking of the "cup of salvation", but He is referring to the suffering He must endure in accepting the "cup of God's wrath" on behalf of a sinful humanity.  In accepting the "cup of God's wrath", the Christ will fulfill the destiny of God's "Suffering Servant" that Isaiah wrote about in the First Reading.

In the Letter to the Hebrews, the inspired writer (believed by many commentators ancient and modern to be St. Paul) is addressing the Jewish-Christian communities.  He refers to the Jewish High Priest who, under the old Law of the Sinai Covenant, had to continually offer the blood of animal sin sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple; these were offered for individuals daily and once a year in a communal sin sacrifice for the people as a whole on the Feast of Yom Kippur (Feast of Atonement).  But, he tells his audience and us that Jesus died once and for all time as a the unblemished sacrifice for the sins of mankind and has ascended to the heavenly Temple where, as the New Covenant High Priest, He offers Himself as the one perfect sacrifice for our sins.  It is because Jesus willingly drank from the "cup of God's wrath" (Mt 26:39-42; Mk 14:36; Lk 22:42; Jn 18:11) on behalf of sinful mankind that we are invited to drink from the Eucharistic "cup of salvation" (Mt 26:27; Mk 14:23-24; Lk 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25), and from our hearts we cry out the words in today's Psalm response: "Lord, let your mercy be on us as we place our trust in You."

The First Reading Isaiah 53:10-11 ~ The Servant of the Lord
10 The LORD was pleased to crush him in infirmity.  If he gives his life as an offering for sin, he shall see his descendants in a long life, and the will of the LORD shall be accomplished through him.  11 Because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days; through his suffering, my servant shall justify many and their guild he shall bear.

This passage is from the fourth of the Servant Songs in the Book of Isaiah and brings out the teaching of Jesus in today's Gospel that it is the duty of those of us who are the Church to serve by submitting ourselves to the will God for our lives.  In this passage, God's unnamed Servant is called to bear sufferings that are not due to his own personal sins but are atonement for the sins of others.  Because the Servant was obedient to the divine will of God by suffering for the sins of others, he will be rewarded by the Lord.  Those who belong to his family (his descendants) will be blessed with a "long life." 

St. Matthew will quote Isaiah 53:4 from this passage as a fulfillment statement applied to Jesus and His mission in Matthew 8:17.  Matthew interprets Jesus as being the servant foretold by Isaiah and Jesus' healing miracles as a sign of redemption.  Jesus suffered for the sins of the entire people even thought He was not guilty of any sins.  By bearing the penalty for the sins of humanity, he expiated the guilt others had earned through sin and redeemed mankind.  Jesus' whole life is a mystery of redemption.  His work of redemption above all comes to us through the blood of His Cross (Eph 1:7; Col 1:13-14; 1 Pt 1:18-19), and this mystery began to be unveiled in the prophecies of the Old Testament prophets (CCC 517).  St. Theodoret of Cyrus wrote: "The sufferings of our Savior are our cure" ( De incarnatione Domini, 28).  He died for us that we might have an eternally "long life" as the children of His Kingdom in Heaven.

Responsorial Psalm 33:4-5, 18-20, 22 ~ A Hymn of Praise for the Lord's Faithful Love
 The response is: "Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you."

4 Upright is the word of the LORD, and all his works are trustworthy.  5 He loves justice and right; of the kindness [hesed] of the LORD the earth is full.
Response:
18 See, the eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear him, upon those who hope for his kindness [hesed], 19 to deliver them from death and preserve them in spite of famine.
Response:
20 Our soul waits for the LORD, who is our help and our shield.  [..].  22 May your kindness [hesed], O LORD, be upon us, who have put our hope in you.
Response:

Psalm 33 is an invitation to offer a hymn of praise to the Lord God who by a mere "word" created the entire universe (verses 4-5; Gen 1:3).  The Hebrew word hesed/checed is repeated three times in our passage.  God's love for His covenant people in the Old Testament is expressed by this word, which in our English translations is usually rendered as "love," or "faithful love", or "merciful love" (expressed as hesed we'emet for example in Gen 24:49; 32:11; 47:29; Ex 34:6; Jos 2:14; 2 Sam 2:6; 15:20).  However, hesed has a much narrower definition than the English word "love" conveys.  In the Hebrew Scriptures, hesed refers to the kind of love that is promised and is owed—a mutual exchange of affection and loyalty based on mutual obligations—love formed in the bonds of covenant.  When this Hebrew word is used of human relationships it means union, fidelity and loyalty in the context of the marriage covenant (Gen 24:49) and when used between men or nations, it expresses the covenant bond of family loyalty or the bond of treaty obligation (Gen 21:27; 1 Sam 11:1).  But when hesed is used to express God's interaction with man, the word expresses God's faithfulness to His covenant and the benevolent blessings and mercy He shows His obedient covenant people (as in Ex 34:6-7 or in Ps 136 where the word hesed is repeated 26 times, once in every verse).

In Psalm 33, the psalmist is thankful to the Lord God who has, in his covenant love, revealed Himself through His works and his word.  The "word of the Lord" is an expression of the divine purpose and also at the same time the agent by which God achieves that purpose.  This is what is meant when the psalmist says the word is "upright"—that it does what it is intended to do; just as the righteous faithful who are the morally upright are those who do what God has commanded (verses 4 and 18). The psalmist is aware that God's providence is over mankind.  He made every human being, and He reads the hearts of everyone as He watches over the lives of those who revere Him and fear offending Him (verse 18). 

This psalm express the most basic and powerful theological confession of the Book of Psalms—that the Lord is faithful to His promises, and His faithful covenant love (hesed) is apparent to those with eyes to see in the trustworthy and wise ordering of creation that is the Lord's doing.  In the last verses of our reading, the focus is on those who receive the Lord's faithful covenant love: those who fear the Lord by revering Him and living holy lives to please Him.  These can count on God as a refuge and the source of their salvation.

The Second Reading Hebrews 4:14-16 ~ Jesus Our Compassionate High Priest:
Brothers and sisters: 14 Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession.  15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.  16 So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.

Jesus, the merciful and faithful High Priest of the New Covenant, "passed through the heavens" (verse 14), and is now before the throne of God, expiating the sins of the covenant people.  This is the first mention of Heaven as the place where Jesus administers His priestly function and where His sacrifice takes on an eternal and timeless value.  The inspired writer uses the phrase "let us hold fast to our confession" (verse 14), urging his audience to be vigilant in their faith, avoiding sin and trusting God's plan in their lives.   He will use the same words, making the same plea in Hebrews 10:23.

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.
The Greek word peirazein [pi-rad'-zin] can mean both "test" and "tempt", as in temptation to sin. Jesus our High Priest has been tested: He was tempted and tested by Satan after St. John's baptism (Mt 4:1-11; Mk 1:12-13; Lk 4:1-13), but He was also tested throughout His public ministry by the religious authorities and by the people (Mt 4:7; 19:3; Mk 8:11; Lk 10:25; 22:28; Jn 6:6), and tested in His willingness to fulfill God's plan as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mt 26:39, 42; Mk 14:34-36; 22:42-44; Heb 5:7-8).  Jesus was tempted, but He was never enticed to sin because He was free from the temptation to sin: For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor 5:21; also see CCC# 603; 2119).

In verse 16 the inspired writer urges Christians to have no fear and to confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.  The faithful believers have no fear of sin, death and judgment.  Even though Jesus was without sin, He witnessed sin and experienced the temptations of sin, and therefore He is able to sympathize with our struggles to resist sin.  It is His promise to us that He will intercede for us with the Father and will help us overcome the challenges we face as we journey in this world toward our Promised Land in heaven.  The Catechism gives us the assurance of Christ's intervention on our behalf: "All Christ's riches 'are for every individual and are everybody's property.'  Christ did not live his life for himself but for us, from his Incarnation 'for us men and for our salvation' to his death 'for our sins' and Resurrection 'for our justification.'  He is still 'our advocate with the Father', who 'always lives to make intercession' for us.  He remains ever 'in the presence of God on our behalf, bringing before him all that he lived and suffered for us'" (CCC# 519 quoting 1 Cor 15:3; Rom 4:25; 1 Jn 2:1; Heb 7:25 and 9:24).   Jesus' promise to us in Matthew 28:20 should give us the courage we need to seek both God's mercy and grace when he said: "And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."

The Gospel of Mark 10:35-45 ~ The Ambition of the Sons of Zebedee
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you."  36 He replied, "What do you wish me to do for you?"  37 They answered him, "Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left."  38 Jesus said to them, "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?"  39 They said to him, "We can."  Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink, you will drink and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared."  41 When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John.  42 Jesus summoned them and said to them, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt.  43 But it shall not be so among you.  Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.  45 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' teaching on humility seems to have had very little impact on the Zebedee brothers (see Mk 10:15, 28-31).  They apparently heard the part about heavenly "rewards" but not the teaching on having the humility of a little child or the part in which Jesus said: 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.  The brothers request the places of highest honor at the Messianic Banquet, asking, "Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left." 

38 Jesus said to them, "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?" 39 They said to him, "We can."
James and John did not know what commitment they were making when they expressed their willingness to "drink" from Jesus' "cup."  The brothers were probably thinking of the Old Testament prophets and their prediction of drinking from the cup of God's glory in the eschatological banquet in prophecies like the heavenly banquet in Isaiah 25:6: On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines ... and so they have asked for places on either side of the Master.  But on the contrary, "the cup" from which Jesus will drink and the baptism with which His will be baptized is His cup of suffering and the cup of God's wrath that He will accept on behalf of sinful mankind and the baptism in His blood on the Cross (see Is 51:17-23; Mk 14:36 and the chart on the "Symbolic Imagery of the Prophets."

39 Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink, you will drink and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared." 
In reply to their petition and the acceptance of His "cup", He told them He could not give them the places of honor they requested because that was the prerogative of God the Father, but they would indeed drink from His "cup".  On this side of salvation history it is heart-rending to read the brothers' enthusiastic reply that they are ready to "drink from Jesus' cup", not understanding He is referring to His "cup of suffering".  He has already given them three prophecies of His Passion (Mk 8:31-33; 9:30-32; 10:32-34), but it is inconceivable to them that the Son of God would allow mere humans to harm Him.  The irony is that they will each receive exactly what they have asked for.  James was the first Apostle to be martyred (Acts 12:2), and John lived a long life of suffering for the sake of Christ's kingdom.  But at this point, they are both very confident and ambitious; they believe that Jesus will reign in glory and they want to reign with Him. 

Mark 10:41-45 ~ The Anger of the Ten Apostles
41 When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John.  42 Jesus summoned them and said to them, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt.  43 But it shall not be so among you.  Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.  45 For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Unfortunately, the Apostles are still acting more "childish" than "childlike".  They are indignant that the Zebedee brothers should aspire to such an honor.  Jesus returns to the theme of "the last shall be first" and the importance of humility and service. The question of rank among the Apostles began in with their argument concerning "who was greatest" in Mark 9:34.  After the disciples experience their "dark night of the soul" in the crisis of Jesus Passion and crucifixion, the issue is never raised again.  Through their suffering, they will all learn humility and obedience.

42 Jesus summoned them and said to them, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt.
Their authority in His kingdom will not be like rank and authority in the Gentile kingdoms where the people are "slaves" to the rulers.  They are to be the servants of the children of God in Christ's Kingdom of the Church.  An ancient title for the Vicar of Christ is "servant of the servants of Christ."

43 But it shall not be so among you.  Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.  45 For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."
In this verse Jesus again identifies Himself as Isaiah's prophesied "suffering servant" (see our First Reading).  The ransom Jesus pays with His life will bring about the justification and liberation of many and recalls the prophecy of Isaiah 53:12 ~ Because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; and he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses.  His service will be His sacrificial death (also see 1 Tim 2:6 and 1 Pt 2:23-24). 

Catechism References:
Isaiah 53:10-11 (CCC 440, 615); 53:10 (CCC 623); 53:11 (CCC 64, 579, 601, 623, 1502)
Hebrews 4:14-15 (CCC 1137); 4:15 (CCC 467, 540, 609, 612, 2602); 4:16 (CCC 2778)
Mark 10:38 (CCC 536, 1225); 10:39 (CCC 618); 10:43-45 (CCC 1551); 10:45 (CCC 608, 1570)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015