October 17, 2021
by Carol Zuegner
Creightion University's Department of Journalism, Media, and Computing
click here for photo and information about the writer

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 146

Isaiah 53:10-11
Psalm 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22
Hebrews 4:14-16
Mark 10:35-45 or 10:42-45

Praying Ordinary Time

This reflection is coming soon. Until then, this is a reflection on these readings from Eileen Burke-Sullivan from 2018.

As the days move toward the late fall in the Northern half of the globe, the Church’s liturgy challenges us to consider the Harvest of God – the in-gathering of gifts into the final Reign of God. In just a few weeks we will celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King.  If we remember our early Church history we recall that many Christians in the first few centuries were tortured and died because they claimed allegiance to the Lord Emperor Jesus, and not Caesar. Even the litany of entrance into the liturgy that we have retained as an entrance rite began Kyrie – Lord, which until then had been the title of the Roman god Caesar.   But who is this Kyrie that we assert is Mercy? What is the style of leadership of this Kyrie of Heaven and Earth?

Pope Francis tells us that Jesus is all about mercy.  We could even say Kyrie IS Mercy – and Francis in so many ways has tried to help us understand what it means when we say Jesus is Mercy.  Francis talks about trying to understand mercy, not as a noun, an “it”, but as a gerund form of a verb:    Jesus encounters us and He “mercifies” us – that is, he both transforms us in his mercy and makes us effective as mercy for others. 

Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus assured those closest to Him that they must be servants of all – they must lead by serving in the manner that Jesus serves – by “mercifying” the world.  A short passage from one of the Servant Songs of Isaiah, the first reading today, discloses the servant-leader as one who utterly knows and loves his followers.  A servant leader does not sin, but she enters the consequences of sin and forgives and heals it.  A servant leader does not “lord it over” but he stands under (understands) the other.  A servant leader does not enrich or aggrandize him/herself but is enriched only by God’s mercy so that s/he can pour riches out on those served.

Every baptized Christian has been called to enter the servant leadership of Jesus. We are gifted with the mercy of God’s Spirit to be merciful in our exercise of this “priestly” leadership.  Such ability to respond (responsibility) is given in the priesthood of baptism but must be exercised constantly within the community and for the world.  The servant leader knows that Truth – another name for God – can never be separated from Mercy.  All the titles of God are intended to speak of the nature of God, they are limited only by our understanding of their meaning.  God’s mercy is, and is not, like our mercy; God’s truth or justice or love both is and is not like the various experiences of humans that these words evoke.  Truth that is spoken without mercy is simply NOT truth – because nothing describes God or God’s activities that are not entirely mercy.

It is no accident in a harsh and embittered time in human history that God would grant us a servant leader for a Pope who makes mistakes, but is ultimately about mercy.  As we move toward the celebration of the Solemnity of the Kingship of Christ, I pray that I will remember that the Christ I give my hearts to is all about mercy – and challenges me to be mercy. 

For any of us, if we have doubt of the truth of today’s liturgy, and the liturgy of Christ’s servant leadership, then we have only to look four weeks beyond the Solemnity of Christ the King and face the Incarnation of Mercy in a totally vulnerable infant. 

As we hear about some of the authorities in both the Church and the world right now, it occurs to me that we baptized Christians would do well to be, and to call on one another to be, servant leaders whose lives are characterized by the “mercification” of our hearts so that we, in turn, “mercify” those we are called to lead through servanthood.

Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.  (Responsorial Psalm 33.22)

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