In today’s Gospel James and John want glory, and Our Lord wants to show them the path they did not expect would achieve it: suffering for the sake of others. Our true glory comes from the degree in which we give ourselves to others, just like Our Lord.
Today’s First Reading speaks of the Suffering Servant and the fruits of his suffering for himself and for others. The Suffering Servant is a prophecy of Our Lord, and the “cup” to which he refers in today’s Gospel is the suffering he knows he must endure for us. Suffering has a purpose in this case: through Christ’s suffering, his “descendants” will receive a long life, the Lord’s will is accomplished, and many are justified. Our Lord too shall “see the light in its fullness”: the light of eternal glory. No one likes needless suffering. We seek to alleviate it, but it is not needless if it has a purpose.
In today’s Second Reading we see the glory that Our Lord received for drinking the cup of suffering: he became our High Priest by sacrificing himself. Although not mentioned in today’s passage, the Letter to the Hebrews explains that Our Lord, in sacrificing himself, is consecrated a priest. A priest mediates between God and others and offers sacrifice to God on their behalf. In imitation of Christ, a priest also sacrifices himself for others, the greatest sacrifice. Suffering and trials are the path to glory for a disciple of Christ, but not senselessly: through suffering and trials we too serve others and give our lives for them to be “ransomed” from sin.
In today’s Gospel James and John are seeking glory, but they don’t entirely understand the path to it or the kind of glory to be won. Our Lord works with them; he doesn’t simply tell them they’re being ambitious and should focus on other things. Followers of Christ will be glorified if they persevere in the faith, but it’s the Lord who sets the terms as to what that glory consists of and how to get there.
We can contemplate earthly glories and they pale in comparison to what awaits us in eternity. James and John think they know exactly what they want, but it is a vision of glory tainted by their ignorance and by visions of earthly glory. Yet they are eager. When Our Lord asks them if they’re prepared to do what it takes to achieve glory, he speaks of a cup to drink and a baptism to receive: both refer to his Passion.
James and John were bold in seeking glory, and we have an advantage over them: we have seen the path to glory that Our Lord has traced out for us. Let’s seek the glory that not only benefits us, but others as well: a glory only won through suffering and trials for the sake of others in imitation of Christ.
As the other Apostles started to complain about James and John’s ambition, Our Lord taught them that they should serve and give their lives in ransom for many. All believers are called to do this. Through our service and sacrifice we help others. Make an extra effort this week to serve others.
Readings: Isaiah 53:10–11; Psalm 33:4–5, 18–20, 22; Hebrews 4:14–16; Mark 10:35–45. See also 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.