29th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B
Note: Where a Scripture text is underlined in the body of this
discussion, it is recommended that the reader look up and read that
1st Reading - Isaiah 53:10-11
As we learned before, scripture scholars have divided Isaiah up into
two (or three) groups and attributed authorship of each group to
different individuals (or possibly groups of individuals), although
other than Isaiah, their identity remains unknown. The first century
Christians, like their brother Jews, attributed all chapters of Isaiah
to one author: Isaiah.
In the sixth chapter of his book (6:1-3), Isaiah describes his call to
prophetical office: “In the year King Uzziah died (737 B.C.), I
saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his
garment filling the temple. Seraphim were stationed above; each of them
had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two they veiled
their feet, and with two they hovered aloft. ‘Holy, holy, holy is
the LORD of hosts!’ they cried one to the other. ‘All the
earth is filled with his glory!’”.
As tradition ranks the choirs of angels, the seraphim are the highest,
the closest to God’s burning love, which is why they are called
seraphim (it means “the burning ones”). The lowest are
angels (guardian angels). Since the Hebrew language cannot describe
intangible things, and all angels (seraph and otherwise) are pure
spirits, some form must be given them in order to describe them. In the
case of the seraphim, they are winged serpents – dragons in the
book of Revelation where the fallen seraph, Lucifer, is described. The
snake in the Garden of Eden was also Lucifer, the winged (although not
described) snake. Perhaps he is described without wings because he has
fallen and can no longer fly.
The Seraphim are saying “Holy, holy, holy.” Again, the
Hebrew language has no way of applying modifiers to words. They could
not say “good, better, best”. In order to achieve emphasis
or degree, the word was repeated. The number three was the number of
completion. When we say the Holy, Holy, Holy in Mass, we are repeating
the prayer of the angels as recorded in Isaiah 6:3 [and complete that
prayer with “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest” (Mark 11:9-10)].
Today we hear from what has been called Deutero- or second Isaiah.
Everyone has heard of the Suffering Servant Songs of Isaiah, the first
being 42:1-4, the second 49:1-6, the third 51:4-44, and the fourth
52:13-53:12. Today’s reading is the conclusion of the fourth
Suffering Servant Song.
Summary: Victory, although never enjoyed by the servant during his lifetime, is proclaimed.
10 [ T]he LORD was pleased
A strong, determined love – a key word in the second part of
Isaiah and occurs later in this verse where it is translated “the
will of the Lord”.
to crush him in infirmity. If he gives his life as an offering for sin,
To understand what a sin offering accomplished (expiation of sins) we
must look at Leviticus 16:15-22 and what it did not do – remove
all sinfulness (Leviticus 16:7-10). The sin offering was a liturgical
rite which sanctified the altar and holy places. It is a sacrifice for
willful sins. Phrases such as this accentuate the heavy sin
consciousness of Israel; especially during periods of exile.
he shall see his descendants in a long life, and the will of the LORD
shall be accomplished through him. 11 Because of his affliction he
shall see the light in fullness of days; Through his suffering,
The Hebrew text reads “by his knowledge”. By full union with a suffering people.
my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.
He will share his own goodness with them and thus fulfill all divine
promises. Although the servant’s innocence separates him from the
rest of Israel, he always identifies himself with his sorrowful fellow
men. His divine gifts become their means to salvation (Romans 3:2b).
2nd Reading - Hebrews 4:14-16
Last week we heard about God’s judgment and how He can discern
the thoughts and intentions of the heart. This week we begin the
section of the book of Hebrews which discusses how Christ, our high
priest, is greater than the priests of the Mosaic Law. Our confidence
is based on Christ’s high priesthood. He is the perfect priest
because He is merciful and compassionate. As man, He has experienced
the sufferings that affect us, although He was free from sin. Since He
knows our weaknesses so well, He can give us the help we need, and when
He comes to judge us, He will take that weakness into account. We
should respond to the Lord’s goodness by staying true to our
profession of faith. A Christian needs to live up to all the demands of
his calling; he should be single-minded and free from doubts.
14 [ S]ince we have a great high priest
This is the only place in the Letter to the Hebrews where Jesus is
designated a “great” high priest. Usually, the author
refers to him as “high priest” or simply
“priest”. Here the designation indicates His superiority
over the Jewish high priest, with whom the sacred writer constantly
who has passed through the heavens,
Came down from heaven
Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession.
This confession is “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9, 1
Corinthians 12:3). Jesus is mediator of the New Covenant just as Moses
was of the old. He is High Priest like the priests of the Old Covenant
prior to the golden calf and the creation of the Aaronite and Levitical
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to
sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested
in every way, yet without sin.
These tests (temptations) did not occur only once (see Matthew 4:1-11
for the temptation in the desert) but were a constant accompaniment of
His life (see Luke 22:28). The only difference is that Jesus never
succumbed to His temptations; unlike His followers.
16 So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.
The throne of grace is the ark of the covenant where Jesus’
offering to the Father is being offered continually (Revelation 5:6).
Gospel - Mark 10:35-45
This week we study Jesus’ third teaching on Christology and
discipleship. Each of the other two teachings started with Jesus
predicting His passion. The first prediction ended with Jesus telling
Peter “Get behind me, Satan,” telling him to remain a
follower and stop tempting Him. The second prediction “the Son of
Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him
and after three days he will rise” was not understood by His
disciples and they were afraid to question Him about it – perhaps
because of His reaction to Peter after the first prediction.
This third teaching also starts with a passion prediction, although it
is not included in today’s reading. As way of background,
let’s now listen to this third passion prediction and follow it
immediately with the gospel reading. This is Jesus speaking:
“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be
handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn
him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles who will mock him, spit
upon him, scourge him, and put him to death, but after three days he
will rise.” (Mark 10:33-34).
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him and said to him,
Along with Peter they were the inner circle among the disciples. These
three were the only ones present at the transfiguration, at the raising
of Jairus’ daughter, and in the garden of Gethsemane. They should
have known better than make the request.
“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
In the parallel gospel (Matthew 20:20) their mother is the one who makes the request.
36 He replied, “What do you wish (me) to do for you?” 37 They answered him, “Grant that in your glory
It is not clear whether they yet recognize that Jesus must die and rise
again. They may still be hoping for a messiah who will salvage the
worldly kingdom and reign in glory on earth.
we may sit
The request recalls Jesus’ promise of twelve thrones (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:28-30).
one at your right and the other at your left.”
The places of honor when the messiah presides at the messianic banquet
38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink
The image of the cup is suffering and death (see Isaiah 51:17-22;
Jeremiah 25:15). In Jesus’ case this is the third cup of the
Passover meal, the cup of blessing, which started his passion –
and the 4th cup, the cup of completion, which was drunk on the cross
(the sour wine) which ended His passion (see Mark 14:36).
“I bless you, Lord, because you have granted me this day and
hour, that I may be numbered among the martyrs, to share the cup of
Christ and to rise again unto life everlasting, both in body and soul,
in the immortality of the Holy Spirit. May I be received among them
this day in Your presence, a rich and acceptable sacrifice, just as You
have prepared and revealed beforehand and fulfilled, for You who are
the God of truth and in You there is no falsehood” [Saint
Polycarp of Smyrna (A.D. 156), as recorded in the Martyrdom of
Polycarp, 14 (written ca. A.D. 158)].
or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
See Romans 6:3; Luke 12:50. Since suffering purifies the soul, Jesus
draws the parallel with baptism which washes away sin (Isaiah 43:2).
39 They said to him, “We can.”
This answer is full of irony considering their subsequent cowardice
during the passion, although James was later martyred (Acts 12:2).
Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and
with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but
to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those
for whom it has been prepared.”
Matthew 20:23 gives this prerogative to the Father. This saying implies
some subordination of Jesus to the Father and was exploited by the
Arians in early Christological debates. For whom these places are
reserved is not clear.
41 When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John.
This verse attaches the following teaching about Christian leadership to the preceding story.
42 Jesus summoned them and said to them, “You
know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it
over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt.
Leadership is described as raw power.
43 But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;
Note the contrast of leadership as service to the previous image of raw
power. Just like the second instruction on discipleship, service is the
key (Anyone who wishes to be first shall be the last of all and the
servant of all) (Mark 9:35). The key to both passages is the Greek word
diakonos (means “one who waits on tables”). [See Acts 6:1-6
for the ordination of the first deacons].
44 whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.
Even more humble than a servant
45 For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
(See Isaiah 53:11-12) Since the golden calf, the Israelites have been
the slaves of God. They have been unable to approach God without an
animal sacrifice. Now, through Jesus’ sacrifice, we are no longer
slaves but sons of God (Romans 8:15-17).
“He is our sanctification, as Himself being purity, that the pure
may be encompassed by His purity. He is our redemption, because He sets
us free who were held captive under sin, giving Himself as a ransom for
us, the sacrifice to make expiation for the world. He is our
resurrection, because He raises up, and brings to life again, those who
were slain by sin” [Gregory of Nazianz (A.D. 380), Theological
“He shared with us our punishment, but not our sin. Death is the
punishment of sin (Genesis 2:17). The Lord Jesus Christ came to die; He
did not come to sin. By sharing with us the penalty without the sin, He
canceled both the penalty and the sin” [Saint Augustine of Hippo
(between A.D. 391-430), Sermons on the Liturgical Seasons, For the
Easter Season, (No. 231,2)].
Summary: Our attitude should be that of our Lord: we should seek to
serve God and men with a truly supernatural outlook, not expecting any
return. We should serve even those who do not appreciate the service we
do them. This doesn’t make any sense if judged by human standards
but the Christian identified with Christ takes pride in serving others
– by doing so he shares in Christ’s mission. If Jesus is
truly King, then we must be His willing servants, willingly doing His
St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, Picayune, MS http://www.scborromeo.org