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In the first reading, we read a foreshadowing of Christ and how He will be suffering in order to justify many (Psalm 22:1-31, Isaiah 50:6). Jesus became the offering on the altar, if you will. Instead of the ancient rites of sacrificing animals on altars, we have now Jesus, the Lamb provided by God (John 1:29, 1 Peter 1:19, Revelation 12:11, Genesis 22:8). Animal sacrifices were common among pagan religions which the people of the Old Covenant often found themselves being influenced by. The use of animal sacrifices and the sprinkling of their blood was a sign of forgiveness and a foreshadowing of the true sacrifice in the person of Christ, the Lamb of God (Leviticus 4:35, 5:10; Hebrews 9:22, Leviticus 16:15, John 1:29). Animal sacrifices by themselves were just symbolic and had no power. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes,
“The blood of animals could neither ‘atone’ for sin nor bring God and men together. It could only be a sign of hope, anticipating a greater obedience that would be truly redemptive.” (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, p. 133)
The true sacrifice is Jesus who died on the cross and had His blood shed for all of us as expiation for our sins (1 Timothy 2:6). Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was done once and is efficient for all to be redeemed (Hebrews 7:27). Many of our Protestant friends believe Catholic priests “re-sacrifice” Christ over and over, this is not true. The Sacrifice at Mass is a remembrance or reenactment if you will, of the salvific events of the Passion of Christ (CCC, 1366-67). Since God is providing us the offering, we must ask for mercy and trust Him as the Psalm says.
God is trustworthy and He loves justice and what is right, the responsorial Psalm introduces (Psalm 145:17). The Psalm tells us of God and how He looks upon those who fear Him or have respect. He shows us kindness and delivers us from death, the death of grace in hell (Revelation 20:14). We must wait on the Lord who is our protection. He cares for us so much that He gave us His only son, the high priest as we read in the second reading.
Jesus is the high priest we are told in the second reading. As a priest, not only does He offer the sacrifice, but He IS the sacrifice (Hebrews 10:12). As priest, He sympathizes with our fragility because He became one of us in all things except sin (2 Corinthians 5:21, Philippians 2:7). Jesus faced the same things we face, but He never sinned. He got happy, He got sad, He faced pain, He faced stress; everything human beings have faced in life, Jesus did as well as true man while at the same time being true God. Because of this, we have a God – the one and only God – who we can confidently come to in order to receive mercy (Matthew 11:28-30). God is all about love and mercy. If God was not merciful, then it would have made no sense to send His Son to redeem the world (John 3:16). Clearly we see that He is merciful. This reading is a great way to prepare for the upcoming Yes of Mercy.
Finally in the Gospel, we seem James and John ask Jesus literally approach Jesus with confidence. They dared to say to Him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Of all the nerve…! How can they dare say this to Christ? Who can say to God, “you have to do what we want”? That is just absurd; nevertheless, James and John did exactly that. They did this because they understood who Jesus was and since they were His followers, they felt they could speak to Jesus like this with confidence. However, they let this friendship with Jesus get to their heads, so to speak. After Jesus asks them, “What do you wish me to do for you,” they answer Him with, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” This was clearly an ambitious request. James and John believed that since they were following Jesus as His disciples, then that meant they would have a high position in the kingdom of God. This is not the way to go. We must be humble when serving God and one another (Galatians 5:13). We do not worship Christ in order to expect benefits or a position as a prince or princess of sorts (Matthew 5:20, Romans 12:16). Rather, we worship Christ because it is “good and just” as we hear in the Mass (Psalm 136:1). Our reward is having full friendship with God. This is what we strive for. However, this does not come easy. Jesus asks the two brothers, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” In other words, Jesus is asking them if they can drink from the cup of suffering and accept the baptism or the rebirth in regards to becoming a new person (Luke 22:42, Psalm 102:9, Romans 6:4). Following Jesus is not a walk in the park, so to speak. We will have to do a lot of things and face much suffering (Luke 9:23, Matthew 7:13-14, Luke 9:62). Those who persevere and do not lose faith will enjoy the rewards of salvation; namely being with Jesus, His Father, the Holy Spirit and all of the angels and saints (1 Timothy 6:12). This entails loving God and neighbor, receiving the Sacraments, living a holy and spiritual life following the commandments of God and the Church as guides (Acts 16:30-31, John 14:15). We cannot be like James and John and think of our salvation as being a career ladder that we have to climb. We must be the servant of others, not the master (John 13:12-14). Jesus gave us the example by being the one who came to serve and not serve. He set Himself aside to ransom the rest of us who quite honestly do not deserve it. None of us deserve to be saved (Romans 11:35). We have no claim to anything that God has to offer. We lost that privilege due to our sin and stubbornness (Romans 3:23). However, the mere fact that despite this God continues to defy the odds to bring us back shows us how much love He had for every human being. Let us trust God and approach Him with confidence so we can obtain grace. Let us see to serve God and on another and not use our Catholic faith or positions in the Church in order or lord over others. The Catholic faith does not exist to create or feed personal ambitions or thirsts for power over others. May Jesus Christ be praised!