Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The first reading for this weekend is from the Book of Isaiah, precisely from its third and last part.
Isaiah, on several occasions, describes or refers to a loyal and devoted servant of God who endures outrageous insults and severe misfortunes, but never despairs or mistrusts God as these unhappy events come to him.
Furthermore, through and from these sufferings, good prevails in the servant’s own faithfulness and the glory of God shines through all that happens.
While these verses were written many years before Christ, pious Christians always have seen in them a prefigurement of their gentle Savior, the innocent lamb of God, sinless and merciful, good and perfect, but the victim of viciousness and of the indifference of so many.
As its second reading for this weekend, the Church presents a selection from the Letter to the Hebrews.
Typically, throughout Hebrews, the letter is strong in its Old Testament imagery, especially in the symbolism of the ancient rituals of the Jewish temple.
In A.D. 70, the Romans destroyed the temple as a reprisal after the Jews unsuccessfully attempted to revolt against Rome. The priests were killed or scattered. The old rituals came to an end. They have not yet been restored.
For centuries, including the first two-thirds of the first century, these ceremonies featuring priests, a high priest sacrifices, victims of sacrifices and liturgical rites of the temple were familiar to young and old, great and small, among the Jews.
With the loss of all this in mind, Hebrews sees Jesus as the great, eternal, perfect high priest. The supreme and unfailing sacrifice is the Lord’s sacrifice on Calvary. He is the victim, offering true reconciliation with God.
The temple rituals are gone, but the power of God endures. So does the obligation to seek the security of this power. Thus, still we must pray. Christ provides the process and the effectiveness of our prayers.
St. Mark’s Gospel supplies the last reading.
In this reading, two Apostles, James and John, sons of Zebedee, approached Jesus. The forecasts by Jesus of the coming of a new kingdom to the world, namely the kingdom of God, triggered their ambition. As insecure humans, they wanted preferred treatment in the kingdom of God.
Presuming it has earthly properties, they wanted privileged places in this coming, glorious kingdom, so they asked the Lord to give them these high places.
Jesus replied, reminding them that the path to the new kingdom will not be straight or smooth. To progress along this path, any disciple must identify with Christ in the fullness; abandoning self, self-interests and comfort to be as Jesus was, giving all to God.
The Lord came into the world as the redeemer. His mission was to redeem, or rescue, humanity from its own plight, a plight created by its willful sin and voluntary rejection of God, and to reward humanity even when nature and all circumstances, work against them.
Results of sin, of bad judgments and of threats from nature can be daunting. Life for everyone on the planet has changed, hardly always for the better, because of COVID-19. So very many people died. Many still are dying.
The poor people of Haiti have experienced dreadful hardships. The economy is a wreck. People struggled just to feed themselves. Then the earthquake came. Now the epidemic torments them. Of course, desperately, they look for a better place to live and try to enter this country.
Millions could write their own Suffering Servant songs.
The Lord promised us all that peace in this life and triumph in the next life await the faithful. His pledge is not pie in the sky. It has strengthened distressed people, profoundly, totally, everywhere, for two millennia. It is real.
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