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October 14, 2009
Breaking Open the Word
By James Cavanagh
Oct. 18: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Overview: We believe that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human. That means that he doesn’t just sympathize with our weaknesses in the sense that he feels sorry for us. Rather, to “sympathize” means that he “experienced pain jointly” with us; that his suffering was of the same kind. The reading from Hebrews explains how Christ identifies with us because he is one of us. We can approach God with confidence because we do so through Christ who is both God and man. When Rome ruled the world virtually every Jew, including the disciples, expected the Messiah to be someone like David or Judas Maccabeus: a great warrior-king who would vanquish the Romans, drive them out of the country and restore Israel’s independence and grandeur. The true nature of the Messiah did not become apparent until after the resurrection, when passages describing the “suffering servant” who would give his life “as an offering for sin” (first reading) were seen in a whole new light. In this week’s Gospel, Jesus does everything he can to explain to the disciples what true greatness looks like. Their idea of greatness was Caesar, or one of many rulers who had power over them. But true greatness, Jesus explains, consists of sacrificial service and a willingness to lay down one’s life for others.
Key verse: “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45).
“Catechism of the Catholic Church”: “The Messiah’s characteristics are revealed above all in the ‘Servant songs.’ These songs proclaim the meaning of Jesus’ passion and show how he will pour out the Holy Spirit to give life to the many: not as an outsider, but by embracing our ‘form as slave.’ Taking our death upon himself, he can communicate to us his own Spirit of life” (No. 713).
Pope Benedict XVI: “How often are the symbols of power, borne by the great ones of this world, an affront to truth, to justice, and to the dignity of humanity! How many times are the pomp and the lofty words nothing but grandiose lies, a parody of their solemn obligation to serve the common good. Jesus, the true King, does not reign through violence, but through a love that suffers for us and with us” (“The Way of the Cross”).
Application: Jesus Christ doesn’t just tell us how to live an authentic human life, he shows us. Vatican II taught: “Christ fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear” (“Gaudium et Spes,” 22). Our culture defines success and greatness by the examples of people like President Obama, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey or famous athletes like Michael Jordan. But Christ shows us a different way. He shows us what real greatness means.