• Today’s Gospel narrates the third announcement of the Passion and, once again, like in the previous times, it shows us the incoherence of the disciples (cfr. Mk 8:31-33 and Mk 9:30-37). Jesus insists on service and on the gift of one’s own life, and they continue to discuss about the first places in the Kingdom, with one at the right and the other on the left of the throne. Therefore, everything indicates that the disciples continue to be blind. This is a sign that the predominant ideology of the time had profoundly penetrated their mentality. In spite of having lived several years with Jesus, they had not changed their way of seeing things. They saw Jesus now, as they had seen Him at the beginning, and they wanted to be rewarded for following Jesus.
• Mark 10:32-34: The third announcement of the Passion. They were on the way to Jerusalem. Jesus walked in front of them. He was in a hurry. He knew that they would kill Him. The prophet Isaiah had announced it (Is 50:4-6; 53:1-10). His death was not the result of a blind destiny or of a pre-established plan, but the consequence of His commitment to the mission which He assumed and received from the Father together with the excluded of His time. This is why Jesus warns His disciples concerning the torture and death which He will suffer in Jerusalem. The disciple has to follow the Master, even if it is a matter of suffering with Him. The disciples were terrified, and those who were behind were afraid. They did not understand what was happening. Suffering was not in agreement with the idea that they had of the Messiah.
• Mark 10:35-37: The petition for the first place. The disciples not only do not understand, but they continue with their own personal ambitions. James and John ask for a place in the glory of the Kingdom, one at the right and the other on the left of Jesus. They want to even be before Peter! They do not understand Jesus. They are only concerned about their own personal interests. This shows clearly the tensions and the little understanding existing in the communities at the time of Mark. These even exist today in our communities. In the Gospel of Matthew it is the mother of James and John who addressed this request for her sons (Mt 20:20). Probably, because of the difficult situation of poverty and growing lack of work at that time, the mother intercedes for her sons and tries to guarantee an employment for them in the coming of the Kingdom of which Jesus spoke about so much.
• Mark 10:38-40: The response of Jesus. Jesus reacts firmly: “You do not know what you are asking!” And He asks if they are able to drink the cup that He, Jesus, will drink and if they are ready to receive the baptism which He will receive. It is the cup of suffering, the baptism of blood! Jesus wants to know if they, instead of a place of honor, accept to give up their life to the point of death. Both answer: “We can!” It seems to be a spontaneous answer, not having thought about it, because a few days later, they abandoned Jesus and left Him alone at the hour of suffering (Mk 14:50). They do not have a critical conscience. They do not perceive their personal reality. Regarding the place of honor in the Kingdom at the side of Jesus, this is granted by the Father. What He, Jesus, can offer, is the chalice and the baptism, suffering and the cross.
• Mark 10:41-44: “Among you this is not to happen”. At the end of His instruction about the Cross, Jesus once again speaks about the exercise of power (Mk 9:33-35). At that time, those who held power in the Roman Empire did not bother about the people. They acted only according to their own interests (Mk 6:17-29). The Roman Empire controlled the world and maintained it submitted by the force of arms and, thus, through the tributes, the taxes, duties, succeeded in concentrating the wealth of the people in the hands of a few in Rome. The society was characterized by the repressive and abusive exercise of power. Jesus had another proposal. He said: “Among you this is not to happen! With you it is not like that; but anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all”. He teaches against privileges and against rivalry. He overturns the system and insists on service, as a remedy against personal ambition. The community has to present an alternative for human living together.
• Mark 10:45: The summary of the life of Jesus: Jesus defines His mission and His life: “For the Son of man Himself came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Jesus is the Messiah Servant, announced by the Prophet Isaiah (cfr. Is 42:1-9; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12). He learned from His mother who said to the Angel: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord!” (Lk 1:38). A totally new proposal for the society of that time. In this phrase in which He defines His life, three more ancient titles appear, used by the first Christians to express and to communicate to others what the following meant for them: Son of Man, Servant of Yahweh, He who redeems the excluded (the one who liberates, who saves). To humanize life, to serve the brothers and sisters, to welcome the excluded.
• James and John ask for the first places in the Kingdom. This thought is a prideful assumption that they deserve it. Do I ask for a first place when I pray? Do I just assume it is mine? How does this manner of thinking reconcile with saying “I am an unprofitable servant”?
• The one who wants to be first in the Kingdom must be “a slave of all.” The Church Fathers taught that Pride is the root sin. A slave has no pride, only humility and obedience. Where do I exert my own will, among others and among my community? How would my relationships be different if I were more humble?
• To be “a slave of all.” To do this today while maintaining our leadership responsibilities requires re-framing those relationships. How do I lead, manage, or instruct others as a slave of others?