The Gospel teaching for today is so counter cultural that it is hard to accept it into our minds and in our hearts. But listening to it causes us to reflect once more on the humanity of the followers of Jesus. It can also help us accept others and even ourselves as being far from perfect. The early followers of Jesus were not mystics or angelic saints, but flesh and blood humans with the normal appetites of humans for success, competition and power. One of the most pleasing aspects of the Gospels is the refreshing humanity of our ancestors in the faith. These are people who become holy and yet a so clearly are models of the fragility and brokenness of humanity —-people whose last desire is to want to suffer. Ironically, perhaps the objective of today’s readings is to assure us that if we follow Jesus, we will suffer.

Suffering is not a popular teaching. Today we want to become fully alive without any suffering at all. We try to focus on The Maple Leafs victory parade with the Stanley Cup and gloss over the 54-year journey! Jumping on the “bandwagon” began last Wednesday! It is also clear that Jesus is not teaching us to look for sufferings, but simply telling us that if we choose to follow Him, we will suffer — as every Leaf fan is well aware.

By contrast, ambition is fairly common in our society today. Today’s gospel gives us the example of Jesus dealing with the ambitions of two of the disciples, James and John.

These two approach Jesus and ask him, “Grant us to sit one at your right and one at your left”. Jesus already knows who will have those places but he does not simply say “that is not for you.” He does not throw cold water on their aspirations. Instead, he invites them to consider what their request entails. “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” Jesus had already told his disciples that he was going to suffer and be put to death, but we do not know if these two disciples remembered this. It was probably still in their heads that Jesus was an earthly messiah who would drive out the Romans from their beloved country. They probably imagined that they would be Great War heroes alongside the triumphant Jesus and so they reply, “We are able.” Again, Jesus does not throw cold water on their aspirations. He continues to fire their imaginations while letting them know that greatness does not depend on sitting at his right or left but on following his example, “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to grant but is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

As is to be expected the rest of the group of the disciples are indignant, they too want to sit at Jesus’ right and left, even though they may have kept silent about it. Jesus uses the occasion of their exasperation to continue his teaching. Greatness is about service not about lording it over others. Jesus reinforces this teaching with the example of his own life. “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

In a world in which everything around us says that “greatness is about power”, the Gospel message today says “greatness is about service.” In a very true way, the Gospel today puts the example of those of this world who would do anything for power against the example of the Saint Mother Teresa’s of this world and asks us to make a choice of lifestyle; will it be the pursuit of greatness through power or the pursuit of greatness through service. The judgment of this very world has always been for those who arrive at greatness through service.

The Gospel comes back to what it means to follow our Lord Jesus. What do we think of the Kingdom of God? Are we interested enough in it to even want to be part of it? In much of Christian history, those who followed Christ had enormous desires to be in the Kingdom of God. Today very few people even think about the life in the world to come and all of their attention is focused on getting what they want in this life. Someone who saw Mother Teresa working in the streets of Calcutta remarked that they wouldn’t do that for a million dollars. Mother Teresa responded that she wouldn’t either!

For the Christian, there is a great value in this life, but the value is always relative to the life in the world to come. It is the choices that we make in this life that determine our life in the world to come. If we choose to love and serve others, we make a clear choice to follow the Lord Jesus. If we accept His values and His way of living as our model, we make a clear choice to follow Him.

Today we can reflect on these teachings of Jesus. Are we willing to be servants of others? Are we willing to strive for inner peace and tranquility so that we face every situation with this inner freedom to respond and to invite others to the path of peace?

Help us to so live that You will be able to recognize the image of your Son within us. Let us take on the sufferings of others in order to help bring peace to our world—and to follow our Lord Christ.

Dcn. Terry Murphy

Category Homilies