Pope Francis is giving us a great example of faithfulness to the teaching of Jesus we receive in the Gospel today. Most people, including Catholics, expect that the Pope will be surrounded by pomp and ceremony, being driven around in limousines, living in palatial surroundings, eating only the best food, having bodyguards and servants bowing and scraping, simply because he is the leader of the Church, the successor of St Peter, the Vicar of Christ.
Instead, Pope Francis chooses to travel in a small hatchback, to live in a guest house, to eat simply, to carry his own bags, pay his own bills, make his own phone calls and, above all, to try to treat everyone as his equal because he sees everyone as a beloved child of God. In other words, he tries to be like Jesus, who came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.
The disciples James and John had not got this message. They thought that being close to Jesus in his ministry would guarantee them power and honour when his glory was revealed. Instead Jesus promises them that they will share his suffering. We know from other passages in the Gospel that his path of suffering will indeed lead to glory, but the point he is making here is that there is no short cut.
Most of us are more like James and John than Jesus or Pope Francis: we would like the glory without the suffering, but suffering is part of the human condition. Accepting our own suffering, whatever it may be, can help us grow as human beings. The second reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews, explains that because Jesus suffered, not just from the actions of others, but from his own weaknesses, we know that he was fully human, and that means we can be confident that when we turn to him we will find mercy and grace despite our weaknesses. Being willing to suffer for others is the greatest possible expression of love, and the first reading, from the prophet Isaiah, is often applied to Jesus: although crushed by suffering, he will see the light and be content, making forgiveness possible, not just for the people of Israel, but for the whole world.
Pope Francis is calling us all to be a clearer sign, by the way we live, of the mercy of God revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.