For the Twenty-Ninth Ordinary Sunday of the Church Year
This is the tenth chapter of the Gospel according to Mark.
Earlier in this chapter, our Lord teaches things that challenge our own culture’s way of life today, namely:
that authentic marriage is for life;
that children are a blessing in the kingdom of God;
that wealth is a great obstacle to following Christ and entering his kingdom;
that poverty and celibacy for the sake of Christ and his Gospel bring rewards now and in the life to come.
The Gospel tells us that after the Lord’s followers heard those teachings they were filled with wonderment and fear.
His teachings are demanding.
However, he does not spare himself.
In this chapter of his Gospel he says he himself is to undergo torture and execution, but that he will rise from the dead.
Today we hear him call his coming violent death “the cup that I drink.”
Finally, he says he has come “to give his life as a ransom.”
Having heard both the harsh demands of following Christ and the harsh destiny awaiting Christ himself, the apostles clearly seem to change the subject.
Two of them ask the Lord for first-place thrones of glory, and the other ten jump in for the competition.
All twelve are looking greedily past the finish line, but none of them wants to look at where the race begins or what course it takes.
Christ the Lord has already put in their faces the fact of his full sharing in our human reality of suffering and death.
He himself is a sign that suffering and death have a new meaning and a new possibility.
In him, the pit of human suffering and death has become the fountain of deepest union and intimacy between God and humanity, between spirit and flesh.
Human life is both physical and spiritual.
Suffering and death are the occasions that most deeply confront human life with its own true reality.
In response to suffering, death and the true nature of human life, our shattered culture today offers us escape by way of shallow diversions, anesthetic drugs, recreational relationships, contraception, abortion and euthanasia— not even thrones of glory for which to compete.
Suffering and death have never gone away.
They shall end only with the coming of the new heavens and the new earth.
We are formed of the material dust of the ancient earth, and God breathes his eternal Spirit within us.
Though we do suffer and die, we shall rise— body and spirit— we shall rise from death, truly free in real body and spirit forever.
Today in his Gospel, the Lord tells us: YOU WILL DRINK MY CUP.
We do not ever escape from reality, both material and spiritual.
Suffering, death, the bloody cross and the glorious resurrection are bridged and reconciled in the person of Christ, bridged and reconciled by God and man.
Christ who is God and man used his freedom to serve the Father and the world at the cost of his own life.
Because of that, his human freedom rose from the dead never to be lost or diminished again.
By believing and following Christ, we face and serve reality and truth in the deepest and highest way possible.
We may suffer for doing so.
However, unless we do so, we allow our freedom to collapse down to what is merely pleasurable, merely convenient, and merely comfortable.
There we shall stay.
We shall lose our freedom and we shall not rise from the dead.
If you were to go lie in bed, and move yourself only for what is pleasurable, convenient, or comfortable, your muscles would soon shrivel, and you would become a prisoner in your own body.
Even the freedom of our bodies requires that we push our bodies beyond what is merely pleasurable, convenient or comfortable.
Jesus took his human freedom— our human freedom— to the limit.
He took our human freedom to the cross, through the cross and up into the resurrection.
This is my body … given up for you.
This is … my blood … shed for you.
The cross of Christ— and our willing share in it— opens up to us our salvation, our meaning, our destiny, our reality, our vocation, our obligations, our consummation and our fulfillment.
There is no real other way.
To receive the Eucharistic Body and Blood of Christ is to say “Amen” to a share in the cross for our own freedom.