Reinvent the Church
Today's readings: Isaiah 53, 10-11; Hebrews 4, 14-16; Mark 10, 35-45.
The story of James and John asking Jesus for one to be on his right hand and the other on the left in his glory further illustrates contrasting responses to the notion of discipleship even within Jesus' inner circle. It symbolises the retreat of those closest to Jesus from the via crucis. In a context where Jesus is speaking of discipleship and of his suffering, it sounds quite tragi-comic for two of his to inquire on top posts in the new administration.
The disciples' request was based on a gross misconception of messianism. Jesus, even in our lives, is committed to break our addictions, not to feed them. God's word first uncovers our different forms of addiction so that it may break the vicious circle that so easily engulfs our whole being.
The only glory and power Jesus can grant his disciples is that of the via crucis. But like the two disciples, we automatically think of God as someone who possesses and wields power. Jesuit theologian Jon Sobrino argues that "the Cross forces us to reformulate the whole problem of God. God is to be recognised through what seems to be quite the opposite of divine, i.e. suffering". Theology after the holocaust is no longer the same. The Cross signifies the end of traditional theology.
In today's Gospel, particularly in the second part, Jesus proposes also a critique of centralised power, even in Church circles. "This is not to happen among you," says Jesus. In the Church there is what we often refer to as ecclesiastical politics, which many a time is corridor gossip just as terrible as in the political realm.
But Jesus conceived his Church in a radically different way. The way Jesus is reacting to what James and John ask of him, and to the reaction of the other apostles, is to be considered a key issue in Mark's narrative because it establishes Jesus' alternative political model. It is important for us, even within our Church structures, to call things by their name, be it centralised power, injustice, abuse of power in the name of obedience, envy, or character assasination.
Jesus proposes his ideal of servant leadership. It may sound idealistic, compared to the highly inflated hierarchical structure that has characterised the Church for so long. But this is the only blueprint Jesus left for his Church. This is the New Testament vision for the Church. The figure of Jesus in the New Testament, and particularly in today's text, is a classic example of deconstruction of a religious world portrayed on the world of politics.
Today's text may be good advice for the Church as it should be and as it should function. Many times it's not the authority of the Church that is being put to question, but the exercise of that authority. John D. Caputo, a leading voice on religion and post-modernism, refers to the words of Jesus in today's Gospel in his book What Would Jesus Decon-struct? He writes that "it is a kind of managerial madness, that is the very foolishness of the Kingdom of God, which Jesus deconstructed in his own life".
Jesus was an outspoken critic of the powers that be, and it cost him dearly. Like Jesus, the Church is called to translate poetics into praxis. Otherwise, the alternative that remains would be for it to end up suppressing the very Kingdom of God that is its mission. Decon-struction is the ageless task imposed on the Church and its way to the future, requiring a willingness to reinvent itself in an ongoing self-renewal.
Falling prey to the temptation of James and John means mixing things up and identifying the Church with the Kingdom of God. What keeps the Church in the right perspective is the tension towards the bigger and broader reality of God's kingdom. It is also the remedy against the delusion of grandiosity which often takes over, even substituting the Church for God.