For some time now Jesus has been trying to explain to his disciples that he is going to be killed, but the Apostles either can’t see this, or refuse to see it. Jesus, however, a student of Isaiah’s “servant songs,” understands this all too well… that to speak the word of God will often lead to personal suffering:
Psalm 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22
Our first reading comes from the book of the Prophet Isaiah. In a passage from late Second Isaiah he tells us that God’s servant will suffer – the fourth of Isaiah’s “servant songs” which tell of a redeemer sent by God to save humanity, but that redemption comes at a cost… the death of his servant. While the opening hook is troubling for us to hear (The Lord was pleased to crush him in infirmity), as if God takes delight in his servant’s suffering, we need to continue with the passage to see that God’s being pleased comes not from inflicting pain, but by having his people redeemed and through it, his servant glorified. Our Psalm reinforces this understanding as we sing “Lord, let your mercy be on us as we place our trust in you.” If we know and trust in the Lord, we know he will protect us.
Our Gospel from Mark continues near where we left off last week. Here James and John asking Jesus to appoint them to his right and his left. While we might consider this to be forward and self-serving, we need to remember that such a request would not at all be unusual in their culture, for men of that age and in their position. Having no understanding of the depth of that commitment, Jesus asks them if they are prepared (even though he knows they are not, and predicts that they too will suffer for his sake). Not surprisingly, the remaining 10 Apostles are somewhat indignant when they heard what James and John were asking. Seeing this, Jesus gathers them all and reminds them that their mission is not to be above all, but to serve all. At this point in Mark’s narrative Jesus’ journeys are coming to an end as they head for Jerusalem, where Jesus knows what his fate will be.
Our second reading continues our study of the Letter to the Hebrews. Here we are told that we have in Jesus a high priest who is not unfamiliar with our weaknesses. What does that mean for us? That through Christ we can be forgiven of our sins. Having lived the human condition, having suffered and died for us, he is uniquely qualified to grant us mercy.
We are very much like Jesus’ disciples. We don’t like hearing these stories about his suffering and death. We take no joy in the celebration of Good Friday. Like his disciples we’d much rather be sitting next to Jesus, to be touched, to be healed, to have our eyes opened to new possibilities if we just love one another. But ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away. For as much joy we can receive in service to the Lord, there can also be pain and suffering. But here’s the thing… if Jesus could take it, if the Apostles could take it, so can we. We’re always so fast to say, “Jesus was God, so of course he could take it,” or “the Apostles, those guys were saints, I’m nothing like that.” But by being so quick to acknowledge their divine support, we completely negate their humanity. Jesus was human. The Apostles were all too human. As our second reading reminds us, it is Jesus in his humanity that allows him to forgive us our human weaknesses because he himself faced those same weaknesses. Jesus came, and the Apostles served, to remind us that they, in their weaknesses, were no better than us. We too, have it in us to serve and be saved.