29th Sunday of Ordinary Time B
October 18, 2015
I: Isaiah 53:10-11
We commented on the fourth servant song before, especially in
the readings of Holy Week. This extract was chosen because
it contains the key word “many”: “by his knowledge shall the righteous
one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous.”
In later Judaism,
rabbinic comment interpreted “many” here to mean, not some, but allthat
is, the nations of the worldthus ascribing universal significance to the
servant’s work (in rabbinic interpretation, the servant was not the Messiah but
In the Christian application of this prophecy to Christ, the universality
of his redeeming work is expressed by the use of “many” from the servant
song, as in the Gospel reading for today (Mark 10:45).
Psalm: 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22
Psalm 33 is a hymn
of praise suitable for any occasion. The choice of verses
for today does not appear to be motivated by anything in
the readings, unless we are meant to have in mind the servant
who waits for God’s vindication of him and his unmerited
sufferings (First Reading).
Reading II: Hebrews 4:14-16
These verses take up the theme
of Christ’s full humanity, which was touched upon in the second reading two weeks
ago. They affirm that Christ is fully qualified to be high priest because he
shares our humanity, enabling him to sympathize with us in our weakness.
what we are from his own personal experience. More than that, he has been tempted “in
every respect” as we are, “yet without sinning.”
Are we supposed
to take “in every respect” literally? Several writers have seized upon
this phrase and extended it to include sexual temptation.
Now it is quite obvious
that the author of Hebrews did not arrive at this conviction by examining every
phase of our Lord’s inner life. The evidence was not at his disposal anyway,
for the Gospel tradition shows practically no interest in the psychological experience
The case is similar to the ensuing phrase, “yet without sinning,” a
conviction shared by other New Testament writers and therefore part of the common
early Christian tradition. No one ever examined every overt act that our Lord
did and concluded that he was sinless.
The clue to the meaning of these statements is to be found in the temptation
stories in the Gospels. Each of these temptations was concerned with the fulfillment
of Jesus’ role in salvation historyin post-Easter terms, with his messianic
The temptations were temptations to abandon that role and to follow
a different line. Jesus’ sinlessness, accordingly, means his total commitment
to his Father’s call to perform this unique function in salvation history.
as to whether Jesus underwent any temptations unrelated to his messianic vocation,
though prompted by this rhetorical statement of Hebrews, is kerygmatically irrelevant
for the New Testament.
If we ask, Was our Lord subject to sexual temptation?,
we are asking a question that the New Testament is not concerned to ask.
may be disappointing to our post-Freudian world, but perhaps that in itself is
a judgment upon our contemporary obsessions.
Two units of material comprise
this passagethe Zebedees’ question and the saying about true greatness.
The shorter form contains only the second of these units.
Before Mark, the Zebedees’
question was probably an independent piece of tradition whose preservation in
the Church was due to a biographical interest in the fate of John.
is ambiguous, part of it ascribing to John likewise an early martyrdom, the main
stream identifying him with the author of the Johannine writings, who allegedly
lived to a very old age.
Mark uses this traditional saying as an introduction to the saying on true greatness.
It is part of Mark’s use of the disciples throughout his Gospel as symbols of
the dangers to which the Church in his own day was exposed.
These dangers were
twofold: a fascination with the “divine-man” Christology and dismay
at the prospect of persecution. These two concerns provide the background for
Mark’s use of the two elements of material at this point.
This story forms the
climax of Mark’s central section (Mark 8:22-10:45), in which he counters the
twin heresies afflicting his Church with the proclamation of Jesus as the Son
of man who is to be crucified (as opposed to Christ as the divine man or miracle-worker),
and the Christian life as a challenge to take up one’s cross and follow him.
Reginald H. Fuller
Copyright © 2006
by The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., Collegeville,
Minnesota. All rights reserved. Used by
permission from The Liturgical Press,
Collegeville, Minnesota 56321
Preaching the Lectionary:
The Word of God for the Church Today
Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition), pp. 359-361.
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