29th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B by Fr. Isaac Atta Mensah

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29th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B by Fr. Isaac Atta Mensah

1st Reading Isaiah 53:10-11
Responsorial Psalm Psalms 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22
2nd Reading Hebrews 4:14-16
Gospel Mark 10:35-45

Theme: The Exercise of Power & Authority


The English historian and moralist Lord Acton is attributed with the proverbial saying “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. This quote conveys the opinion that as a person’s power increases, their moral sense diminishes. Indeed the exercise of power and authority in our world has been the failure and success of many government regimes. Our readings of today remind us to be careful how we seek authority and how we exercise power in authority.

Explanation of the text

Our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah is part of the text nay pericope on the songs of the Suffering Servant. In this text the leader is eulogized as one who humbly submitted to suffering and paid the ultimate prize with his life even though he had the power to offer resistance. This prophecy makes a lot of allusions and prefigures the kind of leadership style that Jesus Christ will propone and live. From the text the leader bears the iniquities of all. This shows the kind of responsibility placed on his shoulders to exercise authority.

The use of power and the exercise of authority is again captured in the Gospel reading of today. Our first reading is part of the passage of Jesus’ last journey into Jerusalem. Jesus on the way has predicted his suffering, death and resurrection on several occasions and from the reactions, the disciples seem to be less enthused about it or are confused about what Jesus was saying. They rather argued among themselves who was the greatest. Jesus rebuked them for nurturing this thought but the disciples again seem to be unfazed.

In the Gospel unlike Matthew who perhaps saw the request of Zebedee’s sons John and James as scandalous and so put it in the mouth of their mother, Mark reported that the two brothers themselves made this formal request to underscore their personal ambition for power and authority. The question of Jesus, “can you drink the cup and be baptised with the baptism which I am to be baptised” and the reply of the John and James is very telling and revealing. The disciples’ confident but foolish response illustrates the depth of their misunderstanding and prepares ironically for the cowardice they will display when Jesus is arrested.

Jesus presents his followers with a countervision to the ethos of the time, he now gives them a lesson on the exercise of power. Gentile rulers lord it over their subjects, and their “great ones” make their authority felt (in contemporary terms “throw their weight around”. In other words power was exercised primarily through force, intimidation and a network of patronage that tried to insure absolute loyalty to authority.

This should not happen among the disciples of Christ. Power and authority are meant to serve. Power is an entity’s or individual’s ability to control or direct others, while authority is influence that is predicated on perceived legitimacy. Consequently, power is necessary for authority, but it is possible to have power without authority. In other words, power is necessary but not sufficient for authority. Let us remember that leadership is everything and leaders are to solve problem but if a leader fails to solve a problem, the problem becomes the leader and the leader becomes a problem.



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