Scripture: Lectionary 147. Sunday, Oct.21. Isaiah 53:10-11. Psalm 33:4-5.18-19.20.22. Hebrews 4:14-16. Mark 10:35-45:
Isaiah in the second section of the tradition of this prophet has several hymns dedicated to a real or a collective person called the suffering servant. The early Christian writers saw in this image a portrait of Jesus and cited Isaiah more than any the other prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). In our present set of readings this helps us to understand the type of leadership and responsibility the disciples should have when following him in his words and deeds.
The passage helps us today to realize that true leadership involves being a servant leader as well as one who invites others to join in the leadership and responsibility. It is not a top down type of leadership but one that is based on service among equals. Jesus lives out this example better than anyone in the Bible. He is our best model for spiritual leadership and also for understanding how natural leadership involves delegation, subsidiarity, and fair treatment of all who are part of the people dependent on true and continued leadership.
Though the image from Isaiah is a collective one, the application to us as individuals is also possible from a careful reading of the text and even on the commentaries dedicated to searching out the intention and meaning of the original author. Moreover, since it is an inspired writing, the divine role of the Spirit is at work within the trilogy of Isaiah and his tradition.
Our excerpt comes from the fourth hymn of the suffering servant motif. Verses 10-11 are a very short part of that hymn but they help us to understand the Gospel and the role of the Responsorial Psalm and the selection from Hebrews.
The servant songs show us the mission of the servant of God; it is Jesus who is able to fulfill that mission through his sufferings and death for the redemption not only of his people but of the whole of humankind. The servant is always accomplishing the divine plan of salvation history. Fr. Stuhlmueller who devoted a good part of his biblical research to the Isaiah texts tells us that we are to be active agents of the redemptive love of God in what we do both as Christians and Jews. This is therefore a noble mission for those who believe and love God. For us Christians, Jesus personifies the servant both in his suffering and in his innovative way of leadership. “Through his sufferings my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.” (Isaiah 53:11).
Disciples do not always catch the message of their leader. Jesus has to correct both James and John and the ten other disciples on the occasion of their discussion as to who is the greatest among them and who has the right to be at his right hand and left hand when Jesus enters into his glory. They should have known better as his disciples, but vainglory, pride, and jealous as well as anger are stirring within their hearts as they hear what the two brothers desired and then rebelled saying “what then is in it for us?” The teacher Jesus uses this as a teaching moment for them and points out that though they will suffer with him in drinking of the same chalice, they have to also be willing to take on the role of servant leaders.
They must serve one another with honesty, love, and generosity. We like them must listen to Jesus to learn how to take on such leadership. He will wash their feet and ours at the Last Supper. We are to be collectively and individually united to the suffering servant. His total gift of self-effacing love is what true leadership consists in if we want to really be disciples of the Lord. St. Paul cites an early Christian hymn that can serve as our meditation for the whole week, in fact, for a whole life time. Amen.
Copyright 2012 Fr. Bertrand Buby, S.M.