Saturday, July 25, 2009

Do you know what you are asking? Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?

The apostle whose feast we are celebrating is known as “James the Greater”, to distinguish him from the other apostle of the same name, who is called “James the Less”. In the gospels, he is never mentioned apart from his brother John. Yet it is clear that he must have been held in high esteem by his fellow apostles, since soon after Pentecost he was chosen to be the leader of the Church of Jerusalem, and there presided over the Council of Jerusalem, at which the decision was made to appoint deacons to serve the material needs of the growing community of Christians, so that the Twelve could be free to exercise their ministry of the word and the sacraments.

James and John make their first appearance early in the gospels. They were fishermen, partners with Peter and his brother Andrew. Their mother was a close kinswoman of Mary, mother of Jesus, and is called her sister. She, whose given name is Salome, is really the principal player in the scene described in today’s gospel:

Matthew 20:20-28
Salome approaches Jesus and kneels before him:

Jesus: What is it you want?

Salome: Grant that one of my two sons may sit at your right and the other at your left in your Kingdom.

Jesus (addressing James and John): Do you know what you are asking? Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?

James and John: We can.

Jesus: You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.

When the other ten heard about this, they became indignant at the two brothers. So Jesus called them together and spoke to them.

Jesus: You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. But you are not to act like them. Whoever wants to become great among you must be a servant, and whoever wants to be first must be a slave – just as the Son of Man has not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

The mother of James and John seeks a place of honor in the Kingdom for her sons. Jesus does not respond to her directly, but questions them, as to whether they can accept the responsibilities that accompany such an honor, and he reminds them, that it only God knows what position each of us will occupy when we enter the eternal Kingdom (and, for that matter, if we get there at all).

The message of Jesus is quite clear: Through Jesus, God our Father invites each of us to gain entry into the Kingdom by being of service to one another. Our talents, our positions of authority, our powers are not for our own glory. All who aspire to greatness before the Lord of Heaven must earn that esteem by placing the needs of God’s people above all other considerations.

There is one other point to be made: Pray that you – and I – not only learn to use the gifts God lends to us for the benefit of our sisters and brothers, his children, but that we learn to be content with our own human limitations, especially when they make it difficult, if not impossible, to do what we thought God was calling us to do.

We hold this treasure in earthen vessels,
that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.

We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.

For we who live are constantly being given up to death
for the sake of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Since, then, we have the same spirit of faith,
according to what is written, I believed, therefore I spoke,
we too believe and therefore speak,
knowing that the one who raised the Lord Jesus
will raise us also with Jesus
and place us with you in his presence.

Everything indeed is for you,
so that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people
may cause the thanksgiving to overflow for the glory of God.
2 Corinthians 4:7-15

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