Quite likely most of us know of a friend, or a relative, who seems to be more concerned about the “reward” rather than the “challenge” to obtain the reward. Or as the modern phrase would have it, “putting the cart before the horse.”
In the Gospel for the Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 10:35-45), two disciples, James and John, appear to be of this type. They are concerned more about the “glory” than about working for it. They prefer the “resurrection” to the “passion and death.” It is quite clear that every true disciple of Jesus must accept the reality that there is pain and suffering before any kind of resurrection. It happened to Jesus, so it must happen to his disciples.
Looking at the Gospel, we can see James and John telling Jesus (not asking him) that there is something that they want Jesus to do. Trying to be helpful, Jesus asks them, “What do you want me to do?” They replied, “In your glory, that one might sit on your right, and the other on your left.”
This was indeed a cheeky statement. To sit directly on either side of the “master” was considered a great honor. It would be analogous to have an Army private ask to become a General right away. It is just not done. It appeared to Jesus that this came across, perhaps unintentional, that this was a “power grab.”
Jesus was aware of this, so he explained what a true disciple of his must do. Two things. First. Experience a “cross-suffering” moment before expecting a “resurrection.” James and John said that they could do this. Second. Know the difference between “to serve” and to “be served” and act upon it. By virtue of their question, James and John were not completely aware of this.
Consequently, Jesus’ response concerning true discipleship embraced both the ideas of accepting pain/sorrow before any kind of “resurrection,” and acting on the obvious difference between “service” and “being served.” The brothers were willing to do the former because of Jesus’ own experience. But the issue of “service” needed some explanation.
Incidentally, the first reading for the Sunday (Isaiah 53:10-11) speaks of the Suffering Servant who exemplifies the difference between being a servant and being served. In fact, Jesus put it quite clearly when he stated in the day’s Gospel, “…Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 10:35) There are several examples of “serving others” in the Gospels. One of the most memorable is the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37)
What is it that the Gospel is trying to tell us? Actually, two things. The first lesson we can learn is to realize that all of us have to experience pain and suffering in our lives before there can be any amelioration. It becomes easier to endure problems as long as we believe that the situation will improve itself. Jesus established that experience in his own life.
Secondly, there is the question of service. The challenge will be to note the difference between serving others, in the sense of the Good Samaritan, and being served by others. Once we assume the fact that accepting the sequence of suffering before resurrection, and providing service to others, we won’t have to “put the cart before the horse” with regards to the effectiveness of our discipleship.