Thomas Merton related that he had asked a Tibet monk about how they train and form their novices in contemplative prayer. The monk is to have replied that for the first year they are taught how to close doors. That seems like a long time to learn how to pray.
The closing of a door is rather accidental, rather unthinking. That’s it, right there. The contemplative person is concentrated, attentive, present to, and aware of the receiving and giving in every “unaxidental” moment of the day, hour, second.
I believe that something is always being offered, by the ever-communicating God. I believe I am so selective that I become numb or close-fisted to how God is opening doors, windows, time itself.
We are heading to celebrate the Eucharist and we will extend our hands with as much awareness as grace allows. To prepare, we might spend just moments closing doors, of cabinets, rooms, houses with a little more attentiveness to what we are shutting in and shutting out. We can pray with hands, not joined, but a little more open to surprises and also the unsurprising.
We will hear in our First Reading from the prophet Isaiah of a “Suffering Servant”. This text can make it appear that God punished, “crushed” a person for some good reason which “pleased” God. Sounds un-Godly to me. The dis-honored Servant, by accepting sufferings, will bring back honor, which is many descendants, the “great Promise of Blessings”.
Once more this can so easily be interpreted as a picture or prophesy of the life and suffering-death of Jesus. More properly, within this prophetic text, this is a picture of how a faithful Jewish man is to look upon the sufferings of his own life. A faithful Jew will suffer and his torment will atone for his sin and those of his Jewish community. The entire chapter concerns the sufferings and the righteousness of the faithful Jew who sees his life, not as a curse, but a way of God to bless. He, the Jew, will face the darkness of the cruelties of others, but, “He shall see the light and fullness of days; through his sufferings, their guilt he shall bear.”
The Gospel has such a wonderfully human opening. James and John, sons of Zebedee, close followers of Jesus for quite a while, cozy up to Jesus and they ask for a little favor. The rest of the disciples are unaware of this sidebar. The request is for two good seats at the victory party. Jesus asks them if they can pay the high-price for these seats. Can they drink the cup and be purified in the manner with which Jesus is going to take His seat. They say that there is no problem.
Jesus then reveals to them that they will drink and be baptized, but the seats belong to those for whom they have been prepared. These might be for those who do drink the cup and live the purification of suffering faithfully.
The rest of the disciples hear about the apparent self-centered request and become indignant. The Master calls them all together for a little “Come to Jesus” conversation. “Come To” and “Follow Me” talks characterize Jesus’ relating with His friends here in Mark’s Gospel. In Mark’s account, the disciples are a little slow of heart and shaky of faith. Jesus uses a familiar image to them for His teaching.
Those in authority and those who have power are known as lords and worthy of being served. He, their leader, has come to them to serve, not to be served. He will lay down His life, as Servant, and in many ways to reveal to them who He is and who they are to Him. Servanthood is being dignified and He will live His life out as Servant by drinking the Cup which has His name on it and live the purified or baptized life of His blessed identity.
Early in my Jesuit life, I worked out in the fields, digging, transplanting, and watering. It was hard work, but just before going to bed I would make a “last visit” in the chapel. I would pick at my calluses and kind of count them as my paying Jesus back for His giving me such a good life, with friends and a place to live, food, of course and a bed awaiting my arrival. In truth I felt we were just about fifty-fifty. My image was that Jesus was accepting my service and hard work and was smiling in approval from up there or somewhere.
Sooner or later I probably bumped into this very text which would have spun me around. Jesus claims that He has come to serve and He is not waiting to approve my servanting Him.
The “cup” is not primarily the cup of suffering. His drinking of this “cup” will lead to His suffering. His “baptism” is His being named “The Beloved” or “Anointed” and so He offers the “cup” and “Baptism” to His followers. Their names are embossed on those cups and they are as well incarnated, or included in His identity. The cup we drink is all that our baptized names represent. We are those who have been and are being served. The calluses we present are the results of our desiring to extend His being Servant. We serve with the Servant Who is serving us and through us to bring about a fuller appreciation of how loved we all are.
As servants we will have our egos, our agendas, our persons and bodies purified through frustrations, failures and real sufferings. In this world, the good will be confronted with opposition. The servant will be suspected, rejected and in many cases, silenced. Can I drink the “cup” of my baptismal identity? The more I allow Jesus to serve me in His many ways, the more likely I will live because I have drunk that “cup” of who He has said I am.
“The Son of Man came to give His Life as a ransom for many.” Mk. 10, 45
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