Wednesday, October 13, 2021

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time homily notes

     Servant Leadership became a popular business model in the corporate world some years ago. There are even renowned business schools that offer advanced degrees in the philosophy supposedly grounded in the concept that the goal of the leader is to serve. The modern concept seems to have originated with a secular essay by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970, but government officials and even some monarchs have fancied themselves as public servants for centuries. Christians going back to the 1st Century have long understood this idea because Jesus introduced the very concept of servant leadership to everyday human endeavor by His very words and actions.    

    The problem with the secular philosophy of servant leadership is the fact that servants are often treated very poorly. While the idea sounds very good and selfless on the surface and might even make for great public relations slogans, very few people respond well when they actually get treated like servants. This idea is at the heart of what the Mass readings are speaking about today.

    All three readings today easily fit as readings for Lent because the image of Christ as the suffering servant who freely offers himself as a ransom for many is one of the central images of Christ’s passion that we hear during Holy Week. This image of Christ has roots in passages like today’s reading from Isaiah, which specifically has several chapters that  speak directly about a suffering servant. This unnamed servant “gives his life as an offering for sin” so that “the will of the LORD shall be accomplished through him.” Christians from the very earliest centuries have always looked to these passages and immediately seen them as a direct foreshadowing of Jesus on the Cross.

    Christian ideals of a servant leader are grounded in the idea that Christ freely and willingly offered Himself. He was not forced to endure the cross nor did He passively accept it. The Letter to the Hebrews today makes clear that Jesus actively offered Himself to perfectly fulfill both the role of high priest but also of sacrifice, as a perfect offering to God the Father, freely given on our behalf. 

    In today’s gospel from Mark, Jesus has just finished giving a prophecy of this upcoming sacrifice of Himself on the cross. James and John blithely offer to share in the same power that Jesus has and become servant leaders without the vaguest idea of what true servant leadership and sacrifice truly means.  Jesus clearly lays out what true servant leadership in the Kingdom of God entails and grants James and John their wish, to the indignation of the other disciples there present. All the disciples will eventually learn that true Christian leadership is, in fact, not about gaining power but fully and freely embracing the same self sacrificial love that Jesus personified with His Passion on the Cross.


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