The author of the Letter to the Hebrews describes Christ as a compassionate high priest, sharing the sufferings of those to whom he ministered. Through suffering, even unto death, he trusted in the Father who had the power to raise him out of death.
It is for this reason that we, a vulnerable people easily crushed by life’s inevitable suffering, can relate to Christ in the darkest moments. “For it is not as if we had a high priest incapable of feeling our weaknesses. Let us be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help.”
There will be times when we ache to understand the pain that we witness and experience. We rarely receive explanations. May patient prayer bring us to the realisation that Christ, who felt all that we can feel, reveals himself in the depths of human suffering. He who was brought to perfection through suffering has the power to raise us to himself.
The prophet Isaiah, in his description of a suffering servant, foreshadowed the ministry of Christ. “The Lord has been pleased to crush his servant with suffering. His soul’s anguish over he shall see the light and be content. By his sufferings shall my servant justify many, taking their faults to himself.”
In these words the prophet identified the compassion at the heart of our redemption. Broken humanity rages against the pain that a sinful world creates. Jesus embraced that pain, walking with those oppressed by the burden of a sinful world. Rather than explaining or banishing suffering, he embraced it, making it the path to salvation.
Throughout his ministry Jesus identified himself with this patient, suffering servant. He had come not to be served, but to serve and give his life for many.
Like Christ’s first disciples, we are more often driven by hidden longings for acknowledgment and self-preservation. Jesus’s repeated predictions of the coming Passion, and his teaching that the true disciple is found in the daily cross of humility, seemed to fall on deaf ears.
The request made by James and John, that they might sit one at his right and the other at his left, followed the third prediction of the Passion. Mark’s Gospel clearly intended the harsh contrast between their thoughts of glory and Christ’s selfless surrender to the Cross.
For us also the incident illustrates that the transformation from innate selfishness to selfless service is gradual. James and John agreed to drink the cup that Jesus would drink and to be baptised in the baptism with which he would be baptised. We are left with the distinct impression that they did not really understand what they were taking on. The other disciples were little better. They became indignant that James and John had stolen a march on them – a severe case of injured pride.
The unfolding of events, and the transforming experience of the Resurrection and the gift of the spirit, would bring them to a deeper understanding.
So it is with us. We speak so easily of humble service and yet, however well intentioned, continue to trip over the remnants of our pride. When we drink his cup with humility Christ uses the experiences of a lifetime to reveal in us the meaning of his service.