Sunday's Gospel, containing Mark's sequel to Jesus' last prediction of His passion, death and resurrection, is one of the most important passages in the Christian Scriptures (Mk 10:34-45). Because Mark directs significant parts of his Gospel against those in his community who thought they could follow Jesus without dying with Jesus, he has Jesus foretell His passion, death and resurrection on three occasions. After each prediction, someone says or does something to show they have no intention of accepting or imitating their leader's demise.

Peter steps forward after the first prediction and strongly protests Jesus' plan. Immediately after the second prediction, Jesus overhears the Twelve arguing about who's the group's head honcho. Now, following the third prediction, James and John come to Jesus to demand:"See to it that we sit, one at your right and the other at your left when you come into your glory."

Pain ahead

Jesus quickly challenges their request."You do not know what you are asking," He responds."Can you drink the cup I shall drink or be baptized in the same path of pain as I?" In other words,"Do you have enough guts to walk down the road of death which leads to those glory seats?"

Though bravado forces them to answer,"Yes!" Jesus makes certain that they, and the other indignant ten, understand what such a death entails."You know how, among the Gentiles, those who seem to exercise authority lord it over them," He declares;"their great ones make their importance felt. It cannot be like that with you."

Twenty years ago, as director of our diocese's brand new diaconate program, I faced a parallel situation. We'd surfaced 30 generous men who felt called by God and their communities to diaconal ministry. Yet, because this ministry had just recently been revived, they had few role models. Priesthood was the only ordained ministry with which they were familiar. So it wasn't surprising to discover that some of the candidates tended to envision themselves as married mini-priests, identifying with such prerogatives as clerical dress and clerical authority.

At times, it was as difficult for me to convey the unique, servant aspect of diaconal ministry to those first candidates as it must have been for Mark's Jesus to convey the unique, servant aspect of Christian leadership to His first disciples.

Jesus instructs the Twelve to take their eyes off civil authorities and to start looking at Him."Anyone among you," He insists,"who aspires to greatness must serve the rest; whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all. The Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve-- to give His life in ransom for the many."

We have only one role model for Christian authority: Jesus. We can't compare our leaders to political figures, kings or business CEOs. Neither can our leaders ever defend their actions by claiming,"Everyone does it that way." We're to"do it" the way Jesus"did it."

Unique Jesus

Early Christian authors always had to deal with Jesus' uniqueness. The author of the letter to the Hebrews, for instance (Heb 4:14-16), in likening Jesus to a Jewish high priest, must significantly alter his comparison to include the fact that Jesus, though"He has passed through the heavens," can still"sympathize with our weakness." And though Jesus"never sinned," He still"was tempted to every way that we are." There's no one quite like Him.

Jesus' uniqueness forced our early theologians to look to another unique person from the Hebrew Scriptures, Deutero-Isaiah, in order to understand Him. Sunday's first reading, from the fourth Song of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh, was one of their favorite passages (Is 53:10-110. Just as the prophet has given"his life as an offering for sin," so had Jesus. And as Yahweh had decreed that"through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear," so Jesus' first followers believed they had drawn closer to God and to Him by imitating His dying and rising.

Christians constantly are called to mirror the beliefs and actions of a person who regarded Himself as"ransom" for others. Considering a ransom is worth only what whose who are being ransomed are worth, we're following someone who values those He serves more highly than He values Himself. No wonder we find it so easy to ignore Jesus as role model.