“You do not know what you are asking” (Mk 10:38)

by Shiu Lan
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 53:10 - 11

Hebrews 4:14 - 16

Mark 10:35 - 45

By this time in his ministry, Jesus has foretold three times his own Death and Resurrection to the apostles. The last prediction is the most detailed, specifying that his death will result from a conspiracy of the Jewish and Roman authorities, “… we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be given over to the chief priests and the teachers of the Law. They will condemn him to death and hand him over to the foreigners who will make fun of him, spit on him, scourge him and finally kill him; but three days later he will rise” (Mk 10:34-35, Ref. Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament P. 85).

When Jesus explains this to the Apostles, they are on their way to Jerusalem, yet the Apostles do not understand Jesus’ prediction nor relate it to their journey. In this week’s gospel reading, we hear James and John voicing their ambitions and asking Jesus to let them sit on his right and his left, “in [his] glory” (10:37). Although Jesus responded, “You do not know what you are asking”, James and John courageously promised Jesus that they would drink the cup that he drinks, the cup filled for sinners despite his innocence and purity (10:38, Ref. Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament P. 85). They asserted their willingness to be baptized “in the way [Jesus] is baptized”, which symbolizes one’s immersion in trial and suffering. Eventually James and John did share in Jesus’ cup and baptism when they suffered persecution in the early Church. James was martyred, “[King Herod] had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword” (Acts 12:2). John was exiled, “I, John, your brother, who share with you, in Jesus, the sufferings … was on the island of Patmos, because of the Word of God and witnessing to Jesus” (Rev: 1:9). They did accomplish what they promised Jesus, maybe far beyond what they could imagine when they put their request to Jesus. Indeed, “[they] do not know what [they] are asking”(10:38).

The ambitions expressed by James and John lead Jesus to explain to the Apostles the true nature of Christian leadership. His disciples are not to imitate the tyranny of the Gentile rulers but to follow Jesus’ example of humility and service, “whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all” (10: 44). Christ has come “to give his life as a ransom for many”, by the price of his life, God has paid for the release of his people from slavery in sin (10:45). Christ’s saving death, thus, ransomed us for freedom and fellowship in the family of God (Ref. ICSB NT P. 85).

St. Paul in the second reading proclaims that Christ, the Son of God, is now in the most intimate presence of God in heaven. Having triumphed over temptation as a man, he understands our struggles, sympathizes with our weaknesses and is able to help us through them (Ref. Heb 4:14-16, ICSB NT P. 421, CCC 2602). When we pray and ask God, we must “approach the throne of grace with boldness”, it is here “we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16).