St. Mark’s gospel is very good about showing us the very human side of the apostles. I have a copy of what a consulting firm might have said about the original 12 apostles. This consulting firm wrote: It is our opinion that the 12 men you have picked to manage your new organization lack the background, educational and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would lend itself to undermining morale. We feel it is our duty to tell you that the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau has censured Matthew for unfair business practices. James, the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot both have radical leanings and both registered high on the manic-depressive scale. One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, has a keen business mind and possesses contacts in high places. He is highly motivated and ambitious. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your comptroller and right hand man. We wish you every success in your new venture.”
James and John, two of Jesus’ earliest and closest disciples could hardly have chosen a more tactless moment for their request to be seated at his right and left. They were probably dreaming about their future prominence so they were completely oblivious to his words about imminent suffering and death. When Jesus asks, “Can you drink the cup I drink?” They eagerly answer, “We can!” They don’t yet realize what they’re agreeing to. In the Old Testament, a cup is a metaphor for what God has in store for someone, whether a cup of blessing or a cup of wrath. It’s only on Golgotha that James and John will realize the deep irony of their request. They will see that at the right and left hand of Jesus will be two thieves also crucified. Suffering, the Cross, is the unavoidable doorway to glory, for Jesus himself and his disciples. The cross is the ladder to heaven. All the apostles were called to drink the cup that Jesus drank. From the consulting firm’s description of the apostles at the beginning you wouldn’t think this possible. But God’s grace builds on nature and with his grace mighty things can be done.
I have a story about my very first convocation as a newly ordained priest. The convocation is a chance every year for all the priests to meet with the new Bishop and to get to know him better and for him to get to know us better. Unknown to me it’s a tradition at this yearly convocation for the newly ordained to be a main celebrant at one of the daily Masses. And part of being the main celebrant means giving a homily. I thought it was tough preaching in front of a huge church assembly but try preaching in front of fifty priests. But that went well everything went well until communion. And that’s when it happened. The non-permanent altar collapsed and all three cups of consecrated precious blood spilled everywhere. This spilling of the precious blood made vivid to me the last line of today’s Gospel, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He gave his life. He spilled his blood for us. He emptied himself totally.
Every Mass we attend we are able to participate in that one sacrifice that took place 2000 years ago. Each Mass makes present to us today the one sacrifice of Christ and the Mass allows us to drink the cup He drank and to join our sufferings to his suffering. An old priest once told me that at the elevation of the Sacred Host and Precious Blood, in addition to adoring the Lord, we are to offer up all of our sufferings to God the Father, to unite our sufferings to those of Christ’s. All physical, mental, social, and financial suffering can be offered. Our bodies, by being joined to the body of Christ, can be transformed into instruments of redemptive grace. Our sufferings, willingly united with His, become in a mysterious but real way the means of grace for others.
Fr. Andrea Santoro, an Italian priest who lived and worked in Turkey, wrote this before he was martyred for the faith in 2006, “I am here to dwell among these people and enable Jesus to do so by lending him my flesh…. One becomes capable of salvation only by offering one’s own flesh. The evil in the world must be borne and the pain shared, assimilating it into one’s own flesh as did Jesus.”
May we be great saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley