‘The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve’

Twenty-ninth Sunday of the Year B

In this reading Jesus tells his disciples that they should not crave status and power but must be the servants of all. Fr Adrian Graffy reflects on the implications for us.

Mark 10:35-45

35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached Jesus. ‘Master,’ they said to him, ‘we want you to do us a favour.’ 36 He said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ 37 They said to him, ‘Allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.’ 38 ‘You do not know what you are asking,’ Jesus said to them. ‘Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I must be baptised?’ 39 They replied, ‘We can.’ Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I must drink you shall drink, and with the baptism with which I must be baptised you shall be baptised, 40 but as for seats at my right hand or my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted.’
41 When the other ten heard this they began to feel indignant with James and John, 42 so Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that among the pagans their so-called rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. 43 This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. 45 For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Other readings: Isaiah 53:10-11 Psalm 32 (33) Hebrews 4:14-16


As we have followed the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem in previous gospel passages we have heard him speak repeatedly of what faces him there. Each time he tells the disciples of his coming death and resurrection, they are reluctant to face the painful reality. In this passage, once Jesus has spoken of his death for a third time, James and John demonstrate how disconnected they are from Jesus. They crave the best places in the kingdom.

Jesus’ response focuses once again on the call to martyrdom. Are they willing to drink the cup and to be baptised in suffering? The two brothers say they are. Nevertheless, rewards in the kingdom are not assured. For Jesus, such matters are for the Father.

The disciples need further teaching from Jesus. The ambitions of the disciple should not be those of the people of the world. They should not crave status and power, but the place of the slave, for they are the disciples of the one who came ‘not to be served, but to serve’ and to give his life as ‘a ransom for many’. Jesus seems to be alluding here to the role of the servant as described in our first reading from the book of Isaiah. The servant offers his life in ‘atonement’ for the sins of many. ‘By his wounds we have been healed.’

Do I share the ambition of James and John for the best seats in the kingdom?

Do I endeavour to unite the sufferings in my life with the suffering of Christ?

Let us thank God for the saving work of Christ the servant.

Let us be grateful for the witness of the martyrs of our own time.

INT-IMG_5349 Fr Adrian Graffy (3)Rev Dr Adrian Graffy is a member of the Vatican Commission that takes a lead in Bible scholarship, interpretation and promotion in the Catholic Church.

Rev Dr Graffy said of his five-year appointment by Pope Francis in 2014: “It is an honour to be nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I feel humbled and very much look forward to being of service to His Holiness and the Church.”

He added: “A great deal has been achieved in England and Wales in recent years by many co-workers to advance Biblical scholarship and the provision of easy-to-use resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for their efforts to promote understanding and love of the Bible, particularly through the publication of the teaching documents, The Gift of Scripture and the study guide to Verbum Domini, The Word of the Lord.”

Rev Dr Graffy received his doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1983. He taught for over 20 years in St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, and is Chair of the National Scripture Working Group, which is an instrument of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Fr Graffy is a past director of Brentwood’s Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and parish priest of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Gidea Park, Essex. Among his publications are the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Romans (Alive Publishing).

Listen to BBC Essex interview with Fr Adrian Graffy