“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
These are the words spoken by James and John that we hear in Mark’s gospel today. They do not understand. Jesus has already been doing that but they are thinking of the earthly stature not the heavenly one. James and John want a promotion over the other disciples. They want to sit at His right and His left hand!! They are thinking Jesus will be the king of Israel here on earth with all the benefits and servants that comes with being a royal. It is a natural part of being human and ambitious to want to be in a place of honor, with the perks that come with being, or being close, to the people in charge.
James and John are two fishermen, the sons of Zebedee who with Peter and Andrew, dropped what they were doing and were the first to answer Jesus’ call. They were fishermen. They were not particularly well educated and they worked hard for a living. Jesus said “Come follow me and I will make you Fishers of men.” They left their livelihood to answer that call from Jesus. His call to them was to become Fishers of Men in much the same way Jesus ‘fished them’. He chose them for their heart and soul.
These were the first disciples to follow Jesus. Now here they are with others following Him, listening to His teaching, watching Him heal the sick and dining with sinners. They have seen miracles and heard the call to serve and help those in need. They loved Jesus and they did as He asked. Yet James and John cannot help but think of themselves and a promotion.
They could not shake off their human frailties. They were fearful of what He told them the future would bring with His dying and resurrection. Who would lead them when He was gone? Jesus wants them to channel their ambitions and follow Him in the way He taught them. Jesus said many times throughout His public ministry that the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve. Jesus served even as someone served Him. Recall that Martha complained to Jesus when Mary was not helping her wait on Him. Jesus replied that Mary was making the better choice by listening to His words than by serving Him food. Jesus taught Martha what was more important at that time. I am reminded of that old saying that the dishes can wait as our children want us to play. They will only be children for a short time. Jesus was going to be here on earth for only a short time. The dishes can wait.
Jesus wants James and John, indeed all the disciples then and since, including us, to continue the acts of teaching, mercy and compassion that He began two thousand years ago. That will earn them a place of honor. It will be in heaven for eternal life not seated at His right, or left, in an earthly kingdom. Jesus tells James and John that it is not for Him to decide who sits on the right or the left- that only His Father can make that decision. Today we have the benefit of hindsight and we know the answer. It is Jesus who sits at the right hand of the Father. We proclaim in the Apostles Creed and every week in our profession of faith, the Nicene Creed which was written in 325 A.D., when we say “…He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” James and John, nor any of the other early disciples, had the benefit of these prayers.
Jesus goes on to tell all the disciples that those in authority over others exercise that authority with a demanding attitude towards their subjects. He tells them that it will not be that way among them. He teaches them that “…whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant… and that whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all…”.This is their- and our- calling. To serve others as Christ served us even to the point of dying for Him. St. James was martyred and died for Christ. Jesus is not asking us to die for Him but he is asking that we die for self for Him. In other words to put His desires and wants ahead of ours. St. John abandoned his desire to lead and let St. Peter, who Christ had declared would be the rock on whom His church was built, be the leader in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. St. John relished in his role to serve others.
Now how do we put these words today into our actions from here on out? I have a few suggestions. Let me again paraphrase Pres. John F. Kennedy…”Ask not what God can do for you but what can you do for God”.
My first suggestion is to prepare for Mass before Mass. How you ask? It is easy. Take just a few – not even 15- minutes during the week and read the readings for the week. It does not take long and the difference is amazing after you have previously prepared and can devote 100 pct. to the Sunday liturgy by not trying to listen and read at the same time. That is like texting and walking or driving at the same time. Eventually you will have an accident. In this case you will have prepared and are 100 pct. attentive so no accidents happen. Next arrive for Mass a few minutes early for some time of reflection. Stay until the end. Experience the sending forth with the final blessing.
My second suggestion is that this coming week you block out 1-1/2 hrs. on either Wednesday night or Sunday afternoon. Why is it that other faith denominations can pack their houses on Wednesday nights and for Sunday school? Why are their services so crowded? Is their faith stronger? I do not think so. We believe that our Catholic faith is the one true faith. Being here today is a sign of that. What is so important that is happening here on this Wednesday night and again next Sunday afternoon?
As you know Fr. Jolly, and a few of our fellow parishioners, have been leading a study on the book ‘Divine Renovation’. The study groups have been meeting- on Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons- for the last six weeks. The Sunday session covers the same material as the previous Wednesday so that if you miss Wednesday you can catch up on Sunday because it is repeated. This study has discussed ways that we, as a parish, can take our faith and go out into the world in much the same way that Jesus sent the disciples. Jesus instructed them “…go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, until the end of time.” The disciples followed this great sending forth and many – including St. James one of the two ambitious ones in today’s gospel- died for Him because they did as Jesus asked.
How will we follow Him? NOT will we follow Him. Let’s begin by making a commitment to be here next Wednesday night at 6:30 or Sunday afternoon at 4:45. Or both. At these sessions we will hear from Fr. Jolly about his visions for our parish going forward. Not just during these difficult times facing our church but during the good times also. He has been asking for our input. Now he wants us to hear his visions for our parish. He wants more than the usual 10 to 20 pct. participation that normally does the bulk of the work. He wants full parish participation to determine our future direction.
This is the election season of robo-calls where every candidate has a prepared message that is sent out by a computer programmed to dial every active phone number. That candidate is sending you their message and seeking your vote. Consider this message as your parish robo-call. Do not hang up!! Your parish is seeking your vote. One of the first lessons in the social studies/civic classes I learned in school centuries ago was that participation in our election process is voluntary but it is mandatory IF we want to have a voice in the direction of our city, state and country. We should consider these meetings next Wednesday night and Sunday in that same context. Please make the investment of time and effort and use the talents and gifts God gave you to help lead our parish forward for the next generation.
Today we have many young families in our parish with small children. That means the initial investment in the next generation is already in our pews today. Do it for them if not for yourselves. Any good financial advisor will tell you that all good investments need to be monitored and adjusted according to changing times or personal situations. They will recommend a rebalancing of your portfolio from time to time as your situation or the markets warrant. That rebalancing need is also applicable to our parish and, more importantly, to our spiritual life and well-being. In fact, those are the things that will determine our eternal life well beyond our earthly life. The needs of our parish change so we need to participate in one of the meetings next week so we can hear the ideas of the vision for our future.
Last week Fr. Jolly said “The theme of our celebration today: Our attitude in following Jesus. Following the Lord may cause you to leave what is familiar… Following the Lord means giving Him 100% of your heart! Following the Lord will ultimately lead to heaven.” This is just the beginning. Baptism, Communion, Confirmation are all pillars of our faith tradition but they are not the end of our service to God. They are the ways to the end which is eternal life in heaven with God the Father. That is what God wants for us and why Jesus became man and died for us. It is what we need to do. Our, and your children’s, faith future depends on you now. This is participatory. It is up to us to lead in the same way those before us led. There are plenty of opportunities in this parish to have an impact on our future.. Please make the investment of time next Wed. and Sunday as if it were your 401k.
God Bless you.