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The alternative

Today’s readings: Isaiah 53, 10-11; Hebrews 4, 14-16; Mark 10, 35-45.

Suffering was always portrayed in our catechisms and theologies as the outcome of sin and it fitted squarely in a logical framework which saw it as the price to be paid for sins committed.

The suffering of Jesus on the cross was seen as the downpayment to the Father which we humans could never have reached by ourselves. It was a terrible theology which depicted a God whose major concern was order, not the well-being of humanity. It was a perverse logic which down the line led the Church to burn so many Savonarolas.

This is a heredity we need to rid off our minds. The God of love is not a God who makes us pay our debts before we approach Him or in order to approach him. He is the God who celebrates the return of the prodigal son against the protests of the elder son, whose idea of the father was distorted.

Jesus did not save humanity by teaching and preaching in the first place, but by empathising, making himself one with the people in suffering.

The letter to the Hebrews says: “For it is not as if we had a high priest who was incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us”.

This is one of the main attributes that in history, anywhere round the globe, makes the Church relevant or irrelevant: it is the capacity to em­pathise, to be there for the people, to feel the pain people go through. It is only this that makes the Church suitable for evangelisation.

The more the mission to evangelise puts the Church on the cathedra to teach and tell people how to live, the more the Church is estranged from the fabric of people’s daily lives.

The Church Christ founded was never meant to be the multi-national, bureaucratic institution it turned out to be. This is the big difference between the thinking of Jesus and that of James and John in today’s gospel.

The two disciples of Jesus were following him to achieve power. This is opportunism or career­ism. To this, Jesus provides an alternative way, that of service.

The desire of power is always self-centered, whereas the alternative Jesus suggests makes of the self a gift to others. One inflates the ego, the other builds the community of people.

Jesus had already at the start of his public mission radically refused the temptation of power on the part of Satan in the desert. Now that same temptation surfaces again, this time in the city and coming from his own chosen ones.

This should be an eye-opener on this Sunday because the Church in general is sick of careerism. The temptation of power still infests the Church both in our way of dealing with the outer world of politics and in the imbalance of relationships within, when internal ecclesiastical politics become the order of the day. Many are those who still dream of a powerful Church left in peace to function as a society within society.

This distorts the true image of what the Church is called to be. The Second Vatican Council’s vision for the Church is that in Christ it is a sign, in that it carries within it the anguish, the joys and hopes, the despair and ambiguities of humanity.

Isaiah speaks of this in the first reading where, in one of his canticles, he envisions the fate of God’s people in history precisely in these terms. Isaiah is addressing the same old temptation of power and strength that Israel had in contexts of suffering and persecution.

This is exactly what put Jesus off in what two of his chosen twelve were asking for. They were completely off track, in spite of the fact that they were with him on the road.

The Church cannot be the stage for social climbers. It is meant to be an oasis of true and authentic relationships. That is also what it is called to foster in a world thirsty of authenticity.

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