29th Sunday Year B
The virtue of redemptive sacrifice.
My brothers and sisters, what does the word “sacrifice” mean to us? In a narcissistic world, a world that champions a “me first” mentality, the concept of sacrifice is counter-cultural. For to sacrifice is to willingly accepts sufferings upon ourselves for the greater good of others. Most of us who are parents would understand the concept of sacrifice well. From the moment they conceive a baby, parents make sacrifices. Many put aside their lives, their careers, their leisure, their financial and physical well-being so as to give their children the best possible upbringing. Most do not do so expecting a reward, unlike what we do when we make a financial investment. For sacrifice is inexplicably tied to love. And even if some of our children become ungrateful to us in their adulthood, parents often remain faithful. We continue to love our children unconditionally. Jesus exalted sacrifices. He said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.” (Lk 6:32-35)
This week’s Gospel tells the story of the ambitious Zebedee brothers. They have no doubt made sacrifices to follow Jesus. But they expected rewards. They tried to make the best out of their discipleship to Jesus by asking for glorious positions in the afterlife. Jesus aptly rejected the request and preached to his disciples: “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptised, you will be baptised” (verse 39). The cup and baptism Jesus were referring to was his sacrifice, His impending Passion and baptism in blood. Jesus continued, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant” (verse 43). Becoming a servant means to be of service to others. In other words, the crowning trait of following Jesus is not to attain glory, but to follow in his footstep in servantship and sacrifice.
As Jesus explained in Lk 6:32-35, as Christians, we are called to not just serve those we love. We are to serve everyone, including our enemies. As Christians, we are called to serve our family, our community, our society and the whole of humanity. While we serve, we need to ask ourselves: Why do I serve? Do I perform acts of service and sacrifice with altruistic intentions? Or do I do them expecting reward, rewards such as glory, praise, recognition, influence and money? While service and sacrifice are virtuous acts, it is important that we serve with the heart of Jesus. And the true test of whether we are serving with the heart of Jesus is when we are faced with difficulties in our service. Difficulties come in many forms. Many of us have limited time and resources; and we are often called upon to go the extra mile to serve. At times, the people we serve are ungrateful to us. Sometimes, they criticise us unjustly. What do I do in the face of such difficulties? Do I walk away? Or I we reflect, improve, keep serving, keep sacrificing, and grow through that experience?
We need to model ourselves to Jesus. What was Jesus’ attitude when he performed acts of service and sacrifice? Of course, Jesus did enjoy His share of admiration and praise. After Jesus cast out a demon, He earned the admiration of a woman who said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” (Lk 11:27) Jesus’ popularity reached fever high when came into Jerusalem on a donkey. “A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’” (Mt 21:8-9) But Jesus did not let fame and popularity gets to his head. In fact, shortly after entering Jerusalem in triumph, He went to the temple, and seeing how the merchants had turned the temple into a “den of robbers” (Mt 21:13), “he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves” (Mt 21:12). Jesus was not afraid to stand up for what is right and true, even as the act costed him public support and popularity. In fact, this act set off a chain of events that eventually costed Him his life. This was Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice.
Like Jesus, my acceptance of injustice is a worthy sacrifice in its own right. How so? For when I accept such suffering, it can bring about the redemption of others – possibly the redemption of that same difficult person that has caused me so much grief in the first place. In the beatitude, Jesus taught us, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Mt 5:5-6) It can take time, but make no mistake, meekness in sacrifice touches hearts like nothing else. It can bring about conversion. In an individualistic world darkened by sin, for a soul that is wounded and broken by past hurt, my sacrifice can touch the most hardened of hearts. This is called redemptive sacrifice. It is a high call from God. For to accept our redemptive sacrifice is to follow in the footsteps of Christ to Calvary, when suffering from excruciating pain, he prayed to his Heavenly Father for the forgiveness of those who wronged him (Lk 23:34).
The sacrifice of the suffering servant in the First Reading mirrored that of Jesus. We read that the Lord allowed the Servant to be crushed with pain, so that “through him the will of the Lord shall prosper” (verse 10). Thus, if I am suffering pain in the midst of my service to the Lord, rest assured that my sacrifice is not without purpose. As God declared in the First Reading, “The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”
Sacrifice is not easy. That is why Jesus did it first, so that we may follow in His footsteps. As St Paul said in the Second Reading, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” (verse 15) And when my redemptive sacrifice touches hearts, when someone who has caused me grief in the past seeks to reconcile with me, I must once again put on the heart of Jesus. I might not receive an outright apology, but that is ok. Understand this, for a harden heart to reach out to me in friendship, it means that the Holy Spirit has already touched that heart. Do not demand an apology, do not condescend, do not reject the hand of friendship. Rather, remain meek and extend my hand of mercy just as Jesus extends His hand of mercy to me. Be merciful, “so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (verse 16).
My brothers and sisters, may the Lord grant us His peace, the peace that the world cannot give (Jn 14:27). Amen.