Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Three times in Mark’s gospel Jesus formally tells his disciples about his coming Passion, and each time they seem entirely deaf to it. So each time Jesus counters their misunderstanding by repeating the need of a disciple to follow him in suffering. Today’s reading begins just after the third prophecy, and—true to form— the sons of Zebedee reply with a request for the best seats at the banquet of the Kingdom! Matthew spares the two disciples by putting the request in their poor mother’s mouth. Only in a second exchange with Jesus do they woodenly accept to share Jesus’ ‘cup’ and ‘baptism’. Do they really know what they are accepting, or do they just blithely agree? The indignation of the other disciples prompts Jesus to his clearest statement in words that authority in the Church is a service. His clearest statement in action is the smelly business of washing their travel-gnarled feet at his last meal with them. The lesson is difficult to assimilate, for authority corrupts even at this level. At the ordination of a priest the Church still speaks of ‘the dignity of the priesthood’ rather than the ‘service of the priesthood.’