Be careful what you wish for. That’s what popped into my head on reading the Gospel this week.
It’s a little startling to hear the request James and John make of Jesus – this apparent grab for power. Even more startling if you read the verses prior to the ones we hear proclaimed from Mark’s Gospel.
“You do not know what you are asking,” Jesus says. But in fact, they SHOULD know what they are asking, because they have JUST been told. “Jesus took the 12 aside … and began to tell them what was to happen to him” upon arrival in Jerusalem where they are headed: “… the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him and spit upon him, and flog him and kill him…” (Mark 10:32-34) Pretty explicit, I’d say.
Though it is James and John who make the request, none of the apostles – those closest to Jesus through all his ministry, those who left everything behind to follow him – understand, or likely accept, what Jesus is telling them. We know this because once the remaining 10 find out what James and John have done “they began to be angry with” them. Why wouldn’t they have simply said: ‘You got this James and John? Marvellous; we’ll take one of the next projects then.’
The greatness of Jesus is an anomaly of that time; frankly it is an anomaly of our time also. This is a greatness that opens one up to persecution and pain. It is a greatness of service, not glory. It flies in the face of what we deem power to be – not a place of privilege, but a place of hardship. The greatness of Jesus is an acceptance of the Cross and all that brings, as described by Isaiah in the first reading. This is difficult stuff – difficult to understand, difficult to accept, difficult to live.
We are living in challenging times with complicated rules, complicated reactions, complicated decisions to make, made even more complicated because the rules, the reactions, the decisions are frequently changing. The most prevalent feeling in the world today I believe, is anger – those who are vaccinated are angry at those who are not and those who are not vaccinated are angry because they are feeling pressured to be vaccinated. It seems so clear cut to those who support vaccination: either you are vaccinated, or you can’t come in. It seems so clear cut to those who oppose vaccination: you are taking away my rights by forcing this on me.
I have no intention of weighing in on this debate here. Jesus told us, “Whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave to all.” He also gave us only two commandments to follow – love God and love your neighbour as yourself. This commandment appears in all four Gospels.
In the second reading, Paul reminds the Hebrews “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but … one who … has been tested as we are.” Jesus is fully human and fully divine. I suspect that James and John wanted the divine piece of that, but as impossible as it is to comprehend or explain, in Jesus, humanity and divinity are intricately one and the same. Jesuit priest John Kavanaugh says we tend not to be very good at being humans, never mind wanting to be gods. So, let’s leave it to God then, shall we? … and simply love our neighbour, seeking no glory.
“Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” Jesus asks John and James. “We are able,” they reply. But are they? And more importantly, are we?
Archdiocese of Moncton
Office of Evangelization and Catechesis