Isaiah 53, 10-11; Hebrews 4, 14-16; Mark 10, 35-45.

The gospel today tells me black on white that the Church I belong to badly needs to be re-invented. Since Emperor Constantine ended the persecutions in the 4th century and the Church enjoyed the favours of the powers that be, internal politics within the Church and diplomacy with the outside world became the deadly malaise.

The Church gradually dropped its punch on culture and society and embarked on the organisation of its internal rank and file while meddling with power politics for its survival. The more the Church embroiled in politics, the more it evolved in a clerical culture in search of power. This is in part why the polarisation that infects our society also suffocates our ecclesial life.

In many aspects, the Church has lost connection with its origins and has become like any other institution. The present-day tragedy we see is symptomatic of a deep structural problem, which cannot be remedied if not radically. With intellectual and theological honesty we need to acknowledge where we are off track in order to find our way back to who we should be.

There is a stark contrast in today’s readings between the idea of a ‘suffering servant’ in Isaiah and that of imperial politics imagined by James and John in their petition to Jesus. Isaiah dreams of God’s people committed to save the world through service rather than a people aspiring to be hand in hand with the powers that be. James and John, on a different wavelength in the gospel, still dream in terms of a Church-imperium.

Throughout history this has given rise to a Church culture based on principles of hierarchy, patriarchy and careerism which generated the clericalism Pope Francis criticises so much. The quest for power on the part of the Church and within the Church is in no way different from the quest for power in major world corporations.

The notion of the suffering servant was meant as an antidote to the aspirations of Israel at a time when Israel sought to give evidence of God’s power through politics and domination. Throughout the ages this continued to be a constant temptation in the Church. All along, this has twisted authority into deceit. Meanwhile, Jesus sees authority as service.

The two brothers among the disciples asking for Jesus’s favour in the gospel were still adamant to bypass Calvary and go straight to the glory phase. It is a clear case in point that they followed Jesus with their set mind. Jesus reminds them of the cup he was to drink and of his baptism, namely, his death. In this context, and faced with the reaction of the other 10 disciples, Jesus gives his model of authority.

Jesus may sound utopian when he tells his disciples: “This is not to happen among you”, referring to the power-dynamics that rules the world and that has often hijacked even our ecclesial life. There is the Latin proverb that goes Homo homini lupus – meaning ‘A man is a wolf to another man’. It refers to how dominating and power-thirsty our networks of relationships can become in the world at large but also in our places of work and even in what we make of our friendships.

The Scriptures provide the antidote for that and highlight what can save the world and safeguard our humanness. The more we learn to assume on ourselves the faults and weaknesses of others, rather than positioning ourselves on the judgment seat, the more redemption ceases to be utopian and becomes a possibility.

The letter to Hebrews speaks of Jesus as the high priest who was capable “to feel our weaknesses with us”, to empathise fully with us, and in a redemptive way. That is how he became the saviour of mankind, and that still is what makes us save the world even in our times.


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