In the Gospel for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, James and John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Imagine the amount of arrogance or cluelessness that John and James had?
They approached Jesus and tried to get Him to commit to some action before saying what they were asking for. The question was out of place for what they just heard Jesus declare: He had just told them He must suffer and die. The two apostles were worried about what place they will have in the royal court. Even though it might seem unimaginable, if we are honest, we would likely say that we’d do the same.
If we could grasp how many gifts and blessings God has showered upon us, we would only want to serve — not ask God for more. If we ever grasped the depth of God’s love and commitment to us, how could we dare to ask for more? Our grasping seldom comes from selfishness, but almost always from insecurity. We want to keep covering up the emptiness inside of us by the things we think will make us feel better. We seek a certain security that can’t come from people and things. It can only come from God. Since most of us don’t like to admit that we’re feeling insecure, we continue to seek a cure in all the wrong places.
What a better world it would be if we could admit to others when we’re feeling insecure. We would discover that we aren’t alone in that experience and probably find a partner in our search for peace and serenity. Many of us still think that sitting in a place of prominence, having all the latest and greatest toys and being surrounded by popular people will soothe our feeling of being lost and separated.
When Jesus refuses to promise to John and James a place of prominence, He asks them a question: “Can you drink of the cup that I will drink?” Because we have the benefit of the whole story, we know what Jesus is referring to, but I’m not sure that John and James knew that. Jesus gives a hint by His invitation to give up their desire to be served and instead create a willingness in themselves to serve others. Anyone who has made that transition in life — of shifting our focus from being served to serving — knows the human connections that we make and the sheer joy of emptying ourselves for the sake of another. It’s hard to convince a person who has not made that transition, but once we have tried that, it makes all the sense in the world.
Let’s take the Scriptures we hear this weekend and follow a two-step process with them for enlightenment that leads to action.
The first step would be to examine our own lives and to notice how, sometimes unconsciously, we seek for others to serve us. We might not even be aware of those circumstances, but becoming conscious of them will help us choose a different action. We might even still have some prejudice that allows us to believe that some people are supposed to serve us. We need to be aware of those pre-judgments so that we can get rid of them.
The second step, once we have gained that level of consciousness of our lives, might be to look at how to be a servant to others. We might find some hesitancy in ourselves to even take the position of a servant. We may have somehow become convinced that is below us. Once we are willing to examine the possibility of being a servant, we might want to start deciding who those others may be. It’s always good to start local and to work out from there. Let’s look within our neighborhoods and our families, our school and church communities, as well as those neighborhoods that are different than ours.
Let us not just be hearers of the Word but doers of it as well.
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.