The Feast of St. James the Apostle
[Scripture Readings: 2Cor 4: 7-15; Mt 20: 20-28]
Disillusionment is one of the more common experiences in life, probably more common than most of us care for. It is seldom pleasant and we almost always give it a negative connotation. Nevertheless disillusionment literally means getting rid of our illusions and moving closer to the truth. Discomforting as it may be disillusionment is a necessary experience in coming to maturity. It is a necessary experience in growing from childhood into adulthood and it is a necessary experience in becoming mature and effective followers of Christ.
This morning’s readings present a number of areas where it is necessary to let go of our illusions in order to follow Christ. The most obvious is the question the mother of James and John asks. Wanting recognition before our peers and signs of honor is certainly understandable. It is so natural to us and can take so many different forms that Jesus repeats again and again that the kingdom of God is not about status and prestige. Rather it is a call to self-sacrificing love. Only slightly less obvious is the fact that the other disciples missed the point just as much as James and John. They all took understandings and attitudes in regard to leadership and authority prevalent in their society, understandings and attitudes for which they had heard Jesus rebuke the scribes and Pharisees, and applied them to their own situation.
Is it all that hard to see ourselves reflected in the disciples? How willing are we to have our ideas about how to be effective in working to build up the kingdom of God turned inside out and upside down. It is fashionable to talk about service as a mark of a disciple; it is anything but easy to serve as Jesus served. Jesus came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many; the many who ignored him, the many who opposed him and ultimately the many who crucified him. At another time Jesus told the disciples to love their enemies and to do good without expecting any return. No recognition, no marks of honor, not even a thank you. That doesn’t seem fair-and it isn’t! To a pragmatist it makes no sense. Yet that is the way of service that we have been called to.
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians presents another challenge to conventional wisdom: The way to be effective is not through strength, but through weakness. Given the frequency and the variety of ways this theme comes up in Paul’s letters, it must have been a particularly hard lesson for him to learn. I doubt that it is any easier for us. It is all too easy to try to take the credit for God’s work in us to ourselves. It is when we reach the limits of our ability and are pushed beyond them that we learn that it is God who accomplishes his work through us and not ourselves. Learning what weak vessels we are is often a long and painful process.
The challenge is not for us to try to get rid of our own illusions. That would be just one more illusion. The challenge is to let the Holy Spirit lead us into the truth that our illusions hide. It is our willingness not to cling to our illusions in stubbornness or run away from God’s healing in fear. It is our willingness to grow in the faith that God has given us that as he raised Jesus from death, he will also raise us from death; not only our final death that we can push off into a non-threatening, indefinite future, but all those preliminary deaths to our pride and vanity that hold us captive to our illusions.
The Feast of St. James the Apostle
[Scripture Readings: 2 Cor 4:7-15; Mt 20: 20-28]
In Roman days, ambition was a word that was restricted to politicians. These seekers after office would go around making speeches and garnering votes like those of today. The word comes from a Latin word “ambitio,” from “ambi” around and “eo” go. A Roman historian who died about 120 A.D. used the term to mean “ardent striving for pomp and honor.” It has an uncomplimentary meaning. But now it has softened to apply to any go-getter.
“In the Gospel story today, a mother presents herself and her two sons to Jesus with a formal request. It did not deal with the present but with the future. It seems ambition has the right of way in this disclosure. A teacher has the right to arrange the seating arrangements of the students. One might assume that Jesus can arrange the seating order of his heavenly kingdom. There is a passage from the Book of Psalms, “Zion shall be called Mother, for all shall be her children. It is he the Lord most high who gives each his place” (Ps 87:5). It is as though the commandant decides just where his staff officers will sit at his conference table.
But Jesus reminds them of the hazards and perils of the present and of the near future. This is what has a tenacious grip on them and their relative continuance to embrace and spread their faith in him. It is a constant in their lives that is not going to evaporate. They were willing to go to their own destruction. The supreme law is the salvation of souls and not unseemly ambition.