Mark 10:35-45, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
When you’re weary, feeling small.When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all.I’m on your side, when times get rough, and friends just can’t be found.Like a bridge over troubled waters, I will lay me down.
My dear friends, do any of you still remember these words? They are the opening lines to that old song by Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water. As you may recall, the song is a promise made by one friend to another. A promise to stand by that friend in difficult times. Not to run away. But to remain by the friend’s side. Even when the going gets tough. This is one possible response I can make, when someone is in trouble. Instead of turning away, I can get involved. Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down. Has anyone ever done this for you? Or have you ever done it for someone else? What does it feel like?
Of course, laying myself down is not the only response I can make when someone is in trouble. Can you think of any others? Apart from turning away, isn’t it true that I can also use that person for my own benefit? Instead of laying myself down to help, I can actually step on the one in trouble, in order to get to where I want to go. Like when a parent is dying, and all the children are fighting over their inheritance. Has something like that ever happened to you? Being used by someone like that? What’s it like?
Laying myself down versus stepping on another. Helping versus exploiting someone in trouble. This is the striking contrast that we find in our Mass readings today. A contrast between two very different responses to suffering. In the Gospel, James and John come to Jesus with a request. But, before looking at the request, it’s important for us first to recall what has happened earlier. The reading begins at verse 35. From verses 32 to 34, Jesus has, for the third time, shared with his disciples what will happen to him in Jerusalem. He will be handed over to his enemies, who will humiliate and torture and kill him. And, after three days, he will rise again.
Jesus has just told his friends that he is getting into deep trouble. And what is their response? Master, we want you to do us a favour… Allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory. What does this look like, sisters and brothers, if not stepping on someone in trouble, in order to get ahead? Using someone’s suffering to benefit myself?
But why, we may ask, is Jesus getting into trouble? It’s not because of any wrong that he himself has done. We believe that Jesus is the suffering servant mentioned in the first reading. Who humbly offers his life in atonement for our sins. So that by his sufferings he may justify many, taking their faults on himself. Taking my faults upon himself. By going to Jerusalem. By walking resolutely the Way of the Cross. Jesus lays himself down for me. Like a bridge over troubled water.
Laying myself down like Jesus, versus stepping on someone in trouble like James and John. Not only is this the contrast that we find in our readings, it is also the choice that they present to us today. To you and to me. For now that Jesus has sacrificed himself for our sake, there is a proper response that we Christians need to make. The second reading tells us what this response should be. We must never let go of the faith we have professed… What does it mean? What does it look like to never let go of our faith?
Let us be confident, the reading continues. Let us be confident… in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help. To cling to our faith in Jesus is first to do what we said in the psalm. To place all our hope in the Lord. To trust and to rely on him in our every difficulty. But is that all? Does having faith in Jesus mean only to lean on him when I am in trouble? Does it mean only to fulfil my religious duties by coming to church every Sunday and Day of Obligation, so that I don’t have to go to Confession? Or going to Confession regularly, for fear of ending up in hell when I die?
If that’s the case, am I not simply using the Lord as a stepping stone to get to where I need to go? How different is that from what James and John are doing in the Gospel? Making use of the Lord only for my own benefit. When I do this, when I remain focused only on my own salvation, have I really crossed over the bridge of the Lord’s loving self-sacrifice on the Cross? Or am I not still stuck in the troubled water of my own selfishness and anxiety and ambition? Caught up only in my own narrow concerns. Unable to see anything beyond.
No, my dear friends, as you know, to have faith is more than just to engage in the right religious practices for my own sake. Or even for the sake of my family. To have faith is also to put into practice the Lord’s words at the end of today’s Gospel: Anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant… For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. To have faith is not just to receive help from the Lord. It is also to imitate him in helping those who are in trouble. Especially those nearest me. Those within my reach. Not just those who may be poor and hungry and homeless. But also those who are lost and lonely and friendless. Those seeking deeper meaning in life. Those searching for God, perhaps without even realising it. Do you know anybody like that?
Isn’t this what it means to be on mission? Isn’t this why we celebrate Mission Sunday? To be on mission doesn’t necessarily mean helping needy people in some faraway place. Often the needy can be found much closer to home. Mission is also about reaching out to them. Being there for them, as they struggle with their burdens. Just as Christ continues to help me bear my own.
When you’re weary, feeling small,
When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all.I’m on your side, when times get rough, and friends just can’t be found.Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down.
My dear sisters and brothers, by being raised up on the Cross, Christ the Lord has already laid himself down for us. How is he calling us to lay ourselves down for others today?
*From the blog Breaking the Word
**Image by Aethryd from the Internet