Feast of St. James

[Scripture Readings: 2 Cor 4: 7-15; Mt 20: 20-28 ]

A question that for many of us can come up when someone asks us to do something is: What am I going to get out of this? It may not be in the forefront of our awareness, but perhaps more frequently than we care to admit, it may be lingering in the back of our minds. When the Someone who asks us to do something is God it can be more embarrassing to acknowledge that this question arises.

When discussing our love for God St. Bernard distinguishes between the love of a slave, the love of a laborer and the love of a son. The motive for the slave’s service is fear of punishment. The laborer comes to God with a bargaining attitude. He is the one who asks: What am I going to get out of this? The Son, Jesus Christ, serves the Father out of his relationship with the Father, without concern for a reward. Our goal is to serve God simply because he is God and we are his sons and daughters; but how many of us can say we have arrived at that degree of love? It seems to me that we spend much of our lives passing through the love of a laborer. We needn’t be overly discouraged by that. Jesus’ first disciples preceded us along the way from the love of a laborer to the love of sons and daughters. James and John and their mother were still concerned with positions of status and prestige as they were following Jesus on his final journey to Jerusalem. So were the other ten, or they would not have been angry with James and John. St. Peter, the leader of the apostles, asked Jesus what would be their reward for following him. According to St. Luke the disciples got into an argument at the Last Supper about who was more important than who.

Realizing the frailty of the disciples who have gone before us is not a reason to be complacent with ourselves, but it should encourage us not to give in to discouragement because of our own frailty. We are indeed earthen vessels, but have we kept serving God with the love of God’s sons and daughters as our goal? It was only after Jesus had been raised from the dead and sent his Spirit to enliven the disciples that they were able serve God and the Church, content that God himself would be their reward. If we serve God, what are we going to get out of it? God himself.

What does God ask of us? That we bring the good news of his mercy and forgiveness, and his offer of eternal life to all we meet. It is in our frailty and weakness that we do this. As St. Paul knew well God’s power is manifested in human weakness. In humility Christ accepted our human condition, including death, in order to bring us into the fullness of life. He calls us to follow his example and turn away from the security of status and prestige, from our concern for accumulating more and more material possessions, from our competition in self-aggrandizement, and humbly acknowledge our weakness and frailty. Then we will be vessels that will allow the Holy Spirit to manifest God’s glory through us in whatever way he chooses.