Today in the Sciptures we see the humble and compelling example of Christ, drawing his disciples, and us, to be united with him in his mission: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as ransom for many.” For us it is a call to transformation; can we say in our lives that we live to serve also? In this Gospel it is specifically Jesus’ interactions with his two apostles, James and John, which draw us deeper into the massage of service and transformation.
To look at this story in it’s context we need to look three verses prior to where this Gospel passage starts. Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem, sharing with his disciples of his impending death; how he would be betrayed and handed over to the Gentiles to be mocked, spit upon, scourged, and ultimately killed.
Then, here come James and John blurting out, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask… Grant us to sit, one at your right and one to your left, in your glory.” I would say that this may have not been the most opportune time for them to approach Jesus about this. It would have been like saying, “Really? Well could I have your car?” to someone who had just found out they had one week left to live. I don’t know what James and John envisioned when they made this request, but they certainly weren’t afraid of being honest and bold. It seems to me that they desired to remain close to Jesus, having committed their lives to be with and remain with him. But were they being conceited, and perhaps overly ambitious, wanting to be first, before the other disciples, in glory? Whatever their desires were Jesus guides and directs them with his words, maybe not to the answer they were looking for: “Are you willing to drink the cup that I drink?…” basically, are you willing to face the same things that I will face, and, “…to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
Like James and John many of us have our own wants and desires. And like them, they also come from a place where we think about ourselves first. These desires can sometimes come from our own imperfection and our own attachments to this world, and may not necessarily be what will make us happiest. From Jesus’ words we know that God has prepared a place for us, but it is a path that calls us to follow the example of Christ, the servant of all, and it may not look how we envision it to look.
We need not cower or shy away from the pain, or the suffering, that this path will call us to, as it surely will, but face it with strength as James and John so eagerly embodied with their energetic, “We are able[to drink the cup that you drink]!” The words of St.Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews, can also give us hope; “We have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin [who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses]… Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Like James and John we are called to transformation; A transformation of our lives and our hearts, that we would come to know and seek the desires of God, and not just our own desires. We can see proof, that God indeed can transform us, by the example of these two apostles. At the end of their lives; James was the first apostle to be martyred, and John became known as the apostle of love (the author of the Gospel of John as well as the 3 epistles of 1, 2, and 3 John). God made James and John into different people. He transformed them from the people they were before, and he can do the same for us.
In this hope let us come to receive from the Lord today, and through receiving his Word, and his Body and Blood, may we become more closely united to the heart of God, drawing hope that it is He who will transform our hearts and give us strength to follow His Son’s example of giving our lives in service to our fellow brother and sister.
Readings of reflection/Excerpts taken from: