This last weekend’s readings and Gospel were particularly interesting to me. James & John are good Apostles (aren’t they all, save the misguided Judas?), and yet they receive a lot of negative attention in these readings. Not to mention countless homilies on humility long after they have gone to their eternal reward! Oofta.
I can sympathize with their curiosity. I picture the two of them coming to Jesus – probably a bit furtively – and making their now-infamous request. Could they please sit on your right & left in heaven? It IS pretty bold. I mean really: honored seats with the Son of God for all-eternity. That’s no small favor, and I’m sure they knew it. But the risk was worth it: what if Jesus had said ‘yes’? And you think first class is nice!
Jesus’ gentle rebuke (or so I again imagine) immediately puts them in their place, if only in the eyes of the then-future reader. You don’t know what you’re asking, that honor has already been set aside. And our first lesson seems to be one of humility – like Jesus we are to be the servants of all, the last to receive any kind of honor.
The Church is very good at the whole humility thing. Yes, we’ve got grand basilicas, cathedrals, churches and artwork, but those are always built for God (nota bene: the day the Pope builds a cathedral for himself is the day we’ve got a serious problem!). Our liturgical setting, vestiture & vessels are embellished to honor God & elevate the soul. But take a look at the common representatives of the Church. A priest’s one-word motto should be ‘humilitas’ – thus the plain black garb of his clerics. Likewise religious men & women adopt a habit that outwardly proclaims their servitude & simplicity. The wealthy & the powerful have much – a servant wears a uniform (just ask any McDonalds employee!).
For centuries the Christian faith has proclaimed the glory of serving without praise – working without recognition for the benefit of others. ‘Offer it up!’ – for the souls in purgatory, for our own redemption, for the good of the world. While it is a virtue that is often neglected, there is no shortage of history & theology to buttress what is so clearly proclaimed by Christ.
So we are reminded to be like Jesus in His service to all. He who had it all humbles Himself to be man. If He can do this, what can we possibly say is beneath us?
And yet we struggle.
It is easy to preach this, to promise to be humble, to nod in affirmation of the abstract idea of being humble. Doing it is something altogether different. We’re a bent race, unable to keep some of the most basic commitments to God. Humility isn’t easy – and all of us are weak-hearted in our efforts at some point.
This is where the Gospel reading is most interesting to review. Recall the wording of the brothers’ request to Jesus: “Master we want you to do for us whatever we ask”.
‘Whatever we ask’ – now THAT is gutsy.
Put aside the rest of the Gospel for a moment and think about this. The brothers have basically come to Jesus and asked for a blank check favor. They have come to the Son of the Father Almighty, Savior of the world, worker of miracles, the Word who has been for all eternity and asked Him to do WHATEVER they ask Him.
Forget the seats in heaven. This is the truly gutsy part of their request.
And how does Jesus respond? How would any human respond to underlings with this request? ‘Hey boss, I want you to do what I tell you’, ‘Mom come over here I have a list of things I want’, ‘Mister President I expect these things to be done by the end of the day.’ You’d be out on your ear with some choice words ringing sharply across the way!
Jesus instead says “What is it you wish from me?” He is ready to give them whatever they ask. The only reason He doesn’t is because what they ask isn’t available – but He is willing to give anything nonetheless. Think about the love that He must have for them, and for us!
So often we are quick to pray for our friends & family, our co-workers, neighbors, bosses abd enemies. But how often do we pray for ourselves? And when we do, how often do we get into the specifics – the gritty day-to-day concerns that we think are beneath presentation to God?
If Jesus is willing to humble Himself totally for our sake, what good gifts wouldn’t He give us? What prayer goes unanswered? The answer is that not one goes unanswered, and no good gift is withheld.
So why not ask God for the whole shebang? Jesus IS willing to sign that blank check. It might not be what we expect, but He always gives us what we need in response to our requests. And He delights in serving us, to make us better. Sure, we will work & suffer as He has, but He is here for us!
Make sure you’re taking advantage of His offer. Why not ask for it all?
God bless you.
- Fr. Maurer