The Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
2015 – Cycle B
Isaiah 53:10-11; Psalm 33; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45
This past August, parishioners of our parish, and those of First United Presbyterian Church and First United Methodist Church as well as visitors to our food pantry wrote and signed approximately 1000 letters addressed to our federal legislators urging them to support the retention and improvement of national child nutrition programs without cutting vital safety-net programs such as SNAP (formerly food stamps). These letters joined others from around our State and the State of Ohio in a record-breaking total of 15,500 letters that were blessed by Pope Francis during his visit 25 September 2015 to Our Lady, Queen of Angels School in East Harlem. Regretfully, as of this date no action has been taken on the legislation and winter is approaching. Though I suppose it doesn’t make a difference what season it is when you are hungry.
As they traveled to Jerusalem, Jesus has just told his disciples that he would be handed over to the authorities. He would be condemned, mocked, spit upon, scourged and put to death. What were James and John thinking of when in response they ask a question about themselves, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you” [Mark 10:35]. What? Are they so self-centered? Were they simply not listening, day dreaming perhaps? Were they reveling in the possible experience of sitting on Jesus’ right and left in glory? I will be condemned, mocked, spit upon, scourged and put to death.
Power is subtle. Power is not good or bad in and of itself. What can go wrong is how a person, a community, church leadership, a government use power. It is a double-edged sword. In the Gospel passage we are presented with two versions of power.
Power is subtle. It can accumulate, slowly turning in on us and devouring us. And then there is never enough of it. We need to be first; on the right and left hand. We need control, we need to be seen, we need to know that we will be safe. Consider that the military budget of the United States dwarfs all other aspects of our national budget for food, education, and healthcare. What are we protecting? When is enough, enough? Consider the greed of many corporations that have put other people’s lives in jeopardy and risk as well as the environment: Wall Street, Volkswagen, oil drilling corporations. When is enough, enough? Consider the jockeying of presidential nominees; the name calling, the attack ads, the attacking of various groups of people within our country. Is this the cost of being first? …of sitting on the right or the left? …the cost of power? To destroy other people’s reputations? I will be condemned…and put to death.
Jesus offers James and John and us another version of power, a power not to be maintained but to be poured out. It struck me last evening at the B Side. I sat down and asked the waiter whom I’ve gotten to know, “Are you going to serve me?” It is simple gestures that open for us what our lives as Christians are to be about. In the light of a restaurant, the phrases roll over us as wave upon wave we hear…
“If he gives his life as an offering for sin…the will of God shall be accomplished.”
“We have a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses…”
“Because of his affliction he shall see light…”
“whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant…”
“Through his suffering…their guilt he shall bear…”
“whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”
“I have come to serve…”
This is a power of solidarity with weakness, sin, and need; a power that sympathizes, bears others up, carries other people, suffers with other people, and serves. This is a power not to be maintained but to be poured out.
Like James and John, who have again just heard of the impending death of their friend, we have been told that human begins are hungry every day. About one in seven American households is not always sure where their next meal is coming from. What is our response? With which version of power will we respond? A power of maintenance where enough is never enough, “[We] want you to do for us whatever we ask of you?” or a power of out-pouring, “What do you wish me to do for you?”
Today is Bread for the World Sunday and I would encourage you to take some time with the bulletin insert and/or to Google Bread for the World and do some self-education. The Offering of Letters was a wonderful outpouring of this community but should not our concern be more than a one-time event? Should our concern for the hungry not continue in other ways? In this light, I would encourage all of us to consider the following:
- Do not waste food.
- Eat until you are satisfied. Restaurants serve us larger portions then we need, take half home. Don’t mega-size a meal or a drink. Gluttony is a sin. One of the seven deadly sins that kills the spirit.
- Each healthy food ourselves.
- Fast once a week – experience hunger. Experience what many people in our country experience every day. Use the time to pray for those in leadership and government positions to alleviate hungry in our time.
- Many people in our parish are quietly generous in their regular monetary donations to “Christ At Our Table” monthly collection, direct food donations for our food pantry and volunteer at Saturday’s Bread or The Lord’s Table. Keep up the good work God has begun in you.
- Thanksgiving is approaching. Are the hungry and poor in some way a part of your family gatherings? Or is it a day to over eat in a country in which fellow citizens are hungry? What might you do to acknowledge the hungry at those abundant tables of God’s blessings?
Power is often subtle. But it can be used so that other people may flourish.