In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ today is the fifth and final Sunday of Great Lent. It is dedicated to St. Mary of Egypt. Saint Mary is for us a great image of repentance as a suffering servant of God. She lived her life as a harlot in Egypt. On one occasion she followed a group of pilgrims to Jerusalem in order to ply her trade. She eventually found herself unable to enter a church because some force was keeping her out. After a vision and conversation with the Mother of God she came to repentance and was able to enter the church. Mary then spent the rest of her life living in the desert on the other side of the Jordan in repentance. She lived alone there totally dependent on God until the end of her life.
In today’s Gospel we are given a message that describes for us what it is to be a follower of Christ. We must be a suffering servant as our Lord was through His holy passion. Our Lord first teaches his disciples that He as the “Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again.”
This teaching was to prepare His disciples for the events to happen to Him in the coming days once He enters into Jerusalem. In a way through this teaching He is also showing them how He is the fulfillment of the prophecies. The Prophecy of Isaiah, the suffering servant passage in particular points to these events (Isaiah 53). The Church reminds us how this prophecy of the suffering servant relates to these events using it as areading during the Vespers service of Great and Holy Friday.
This Gospel also prepares us for the events of the Great and Holy Week that are coming. After the celebration of Palm Sunday next Sunday we will soon find ourselves at the foot of the Holy Cross in much the same way as the Lords disciples found themselves.
As our Lord is providing this teaching two of His disciples become concerned about their status once He is departed. They ask our Lord to “Grant unto us that we may sit, one on your right hand, and the other on your left hand, in your glory.” James and John illustrate for us that through this action that they are very much like us. They suffer like us from the affliction of self. They ask as we often ask of God “What is in this for me?” This is the sin of selfishness that afflicts us all. This why our Lord says in the Gospel of St. Matthew “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24)
It is only through God that we are able to overcome this selfishness. This is why our Lord provides us with the hope of salivation with the words “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)
Our Lord knows the hearts of His disciples, as he knows the hearts of all men. This is why He does not strike out against these disciples when they make this request. Instead He continues to teach them what it means to be His disciple through two questions. Those questions are “You know not what you ask: can you drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
Their response without thinking is yes. The Blessed Theophylact states that they did not understand this question when they answered. Theophylact says they were thinking of an actual cup of wine which a man gladly accepts and of baptism which is done to cleanse men of their sins.
What our Lord is telling them that is that they will receive the same things that He will receive as it says in the Gospel of Saint John “Remember the word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:20)
The cup and the baptism that our Lord is referring to is that of martyrdom that each of His disciples will receive. Saint Nikolaj Velirmirovic refers to martyrdom as a third baptism. Saint Nikolaj says “the first was John’s baptism by water, the second is Christ’s by water and the Spirit and there are only some that are given baptism by blood.” This baptism by blood is linked inseparably to our Lord’s passion on the Holy Cross.
Judas does not want to endure this end in humiliation, suffering and death. Judas fails to realize that by following the same path of the Lord that He will receive a crown of glory. Judas wants to receive this crown of victory over sin and death without enduring the suffering that is involved. Simply put he does not want to do the work necessary to receive God’s gifts.
Many of us do not want to do this work and follow the path of the cross in order to receive God’s gifts. This Gospel reminds us that it is only by following Christ’s path that we can receive the joy of the Kingdom of Heaven. As we heard on the Sunday of the Cross “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) It is only through accepting defeat of our own will and desires that we gain victory over our selfishness. Following the way of the cross is the way in God makes all things possible for us to enter into His kingdom.
So my dear brothers in sisters in Christ my prayer for you is that you may become a suffering servant by following Christ’s example on the Holy and Life Creating Cross in the way you live your lives that you may enter into His kingdom.
Delivered by Fr. Milan Medakovic at Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church, Youngstown Ohio on the 5th Sunday of Great Lent 2009.