Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct. 21, 2018)

The family is the cornerstone of our society and the church. Two weeks ago, we heard Jesus speak of the importance of marriage. When questioned about divorce, he had said that Moses permitted it because of “the hardness of your hearts.”

He went on to say, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

Jesus continues to form his disciples in the kingdom of God. He is teaching them and us how to live life according to the Father’s vision of life.

Perhaps we might consider living that discipleship in the most basic of relationships, that being within the family. Jesus continues to speak to us about discipleship today. In a particular way, he speaks of loving others through service. The type of service that he calls for is not a superficial one, but one that comes from the center of one’s life, from the heart.

When the sons of Zebedee ask to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand, they are seeking to put themselves above the others. Their concern is very much for themselves, self-serving and selfish. Before Jesus answers their question, he first says: “You do not know what you are asking.” They do not realize the gravity of their simple question. Then he asks them a question: “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

The question points to the culmination of Jesus’ love – his passion and death. The cup he drinks and the baptism with which he is being baptized is the mission of love. He empties himself in love for others. This is the way and the path to the kingdom of God. In sacrificial love Jesus will be given the throne.

So when he asks James and John the question, he is asking them if they can love as he loves, if they can empty themselves in concern for all. The response is “we can.”

Jesus then tells them that they will drink the cup and share the baptism, but only the Father can determine who sits at the right and left. Jesus then addresses the Twelve on leadership within the community in the same manner, saying that “whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus is inviting us to follow him in loving others by putting their needs ahead of our own. This is not an easy mission. The path of life is the path of love. Isaiah’s words remind us of this when he says in the first reading: “Because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days; through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.”

The victory will assuredly be won, but only after the mission is accomplished. If this is true for Jesus, it is true for us. While it is true that his victory is a triumph for all, the invitation remains so that all can participate.

The love that Jesus calls us to is one of sacrificial love. The family is the context for most people to practice this type of love, starting with husbands and wives. The commitment between the two spouses is a commitment to love – “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.”

One of the expressions used today to describe fidelity to Christ is “committed discipleship” or “intentional discipleship.” The same concept can be applied to being a disciple who is married. When one dedicates himself or herself to a spouse on a daily basis, the opportunities for love and life to grow are boundless. One question we might ask ourselves at the beginning of the day is, “How am I going to show my wife/husband that I love her/him?”

Most times the answer should be a simple act of kindness, compassion or mercy. Sometimes something more significant might be appropriate. The day-to-day offering of one’s self for one’s spouse is the way for married couples to “drink from the cup” or “share in the baptism.” A similar concept can be applied to daughters and sons, and the best way for children to learn this is from seeing their parents loving one another.

Jesus calls us to discipleship in his church. From the earliest days of Christianity, the family has been described as the “domestic church,” the most basic unit of the church. When we seek to follow Jesus by laying down our lives in service to each other, especially in the context of Christian marriage, that church becomes visible, vibrant and life-giving.

And so it is in this context that most of us hear Jesus ask the question: “Can you drink the cup which I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”


Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.