"Breaking Open the Word" :
James Cavanagh is the director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. His weekly column, "Breaking Open the Word," is syndicated by the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Click here to visit the Office of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Denver.
October 21: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
• Isaiah 53:10-11
Synopsis: The readings this week focus on the servanthood of Christ. A man like us in all respects, but without sin, Jesus is the model of true greatness. The first reading is called the “fourth servant song” of Isaiah. The suffering servant is God’s chosen one: the Messiah. Unlike David, the great warrior-king who vanquished his enemies by the sword, God’s servant-Messiah will redeem his people by suffering for them and bearing their guilt. But the fruit of his redeeming sacrifice will not be limited to the Jews alone. Through his suffering, he “will justify many.”
In the second reading, Christ is the great high priest who has ascended into heaven. But he is not so high or distant that he can’t relate to us. As he promised, “I am with you always even to the close of the age” (Matt 28:28). Seated at the right hand of God, he is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses” because he has taken our humanity into heaven with him. Therefore, we can approach the “throne of grace” with confidence because Christ is both God and man: fully human and fully divine.
In this week’s Gospel, Jesus explains the nature of power in God’s kingdom. The disciples were not that different from us. Their idea of power was based on what they knew. They knew all about Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod and other rulers who governed them. But true greatness, Jesus explains, true power means the ability to serve others, even to the point of laying down one’s life.
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” (Mark 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”).
Life application: What are the symbols of power in our world today? What kind of people does society esteem and hold up as examples of greatness? Celebrities? Sports figures? Politicians? Billionaire tycoons? In God’s kingdom it’s different. Humility, patience, generosity, purity, self-control and similar virtues are what God values. Christ showed us what true greatness is “by giving his life as a ransom for many” and by doing so showed us the path to follow.
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.
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