29th Sunday OT Year B:
In today’s gospel, the apostles do no look too good. James and John look petty and importunate: give us whatever we ask… The others become indignant and grumpy, almost as if they wanted to ask Jesus the same thing and are mad that the brothers beat them to it. I am always inspired by the stories of in the Bible where the disciples look bad, because that means there is still hope for me yet! These apostles are the greatest saints in the history of the Church, but they were not always great Christians, the struggled and had much to overcome. So if we struggle, if we have much to overcome, these stories should fill us with hope. If we see ourselves in the apostles when they are petty and grumbling, maybe, by God’s grace, we too can become great saints. For this reason we continue to read their stories so that we can learn from their example.
What do we learn from today’s story? If I asked James and John: who is Jesus? They would reply that they believed he was the Christ, and that is a great start! But if we listen again to their question, we find out that they don’t really know what it means that Jesus is the Christ. When they ask for places of honor in Christ’s kingdom, it might be easy for us to assume that they are talking about heaven. But, I don’t think so. Rather, I think they saw Jesus as a worldly leader who was about to start an uprising. They were hoping to gain positions of power when the anointed one restored the earthly kingdom to the people of Israel. So we could say that they have faith in Jesus, but that their faith still needed to grow. They thought that Jesus came to rule the earth, this is why Jesus tells them: I can to serve not to be served. They still needed to comprehend the mystery of Christ. Christ indeed came to establish the kingdom, but it is a kingdom of peace and service, not a dictatorship.
Also, look at their first question: we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you. What does this say about their view of Jesus? Does this sound like a way to approach your loving savior? Would any of us address a real friend this way? Much more, would we say something so bold to a complete stranger? It seems to me that when they confront Jesus in this manner they are not respecting him as a person, they do not love him as a friend. Rather, in today’s gospel the disciples treat Jesus like a means to an end. Jesus is like a vending machine: ok, we have followed you, now we want you to give us whatever we ask.
At this point it is good for us to ask ourselves if we ever fall into these two traps. Do we have the wrong idea about Jesus? Do we live to serve others the way that Christ came to serve us? What is our relationship with God like? Do we love and respect God our Savior, or do we treat him like a machine that should give us the things we want right when we ask for them?
How do we make the transformation? The disciples changed only when they met the Risen Jesus. They saw Jesus die on the cross, the met Jesus after he rose from the dead. They had a relationship with the person of Christ. No longer was Jesus just their idea of the Messiah, no longer did they treat him like a means to an end. After they met the Risen Christ, they had a relationship with Christ and they lived to be like Christ for others.
The same is true for us, and while we might not see Jesus face to face the way that the apostles did. We meet Jesus in his Holy Scriptures, we meet him in our life of prayer, and we meet him, especially, right here in the Eucharist.
Today we learn that the apostles had a long way to go in their life of faith, and we might have a long way to go as well. But just as they got their by the grace of God, so may we if we draw close to Christ.