James and John Get Their Wish
User's Guide to Sunday, Oct. 18
Sunday, Oct. 18, is the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time — Mission Sunday.
Isaiah 53:10-11; Psalm 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45 or 10:42-45
Today, James and John learn the hard way the price of glory.
They sound very childish in the story in the Gospel of Mark. They approach Jesus with the kind of request many middle-school kids fantasize about asking a genie in a bottle: “We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
Jesus plays along, saying, “What do you wish me to do for you?
They have an opportunity here to be like Solomon in the Old Testament, asking for the great gift of wisdom, or like Mother Teresa, who in our time asked Jesus for the grace of never refusing him anything. They blow the opportunity.
“Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left,” they say.
But Jesus still does not dismiss them out of hand. He points out, “You do not know what you are asking” and asks if they are willing to be baptized with his baptism and drink from his cup — metaphors for sharing in his suffering.
Jesus is redefining their desire to share in his glory as a desire to share in his suffering. And that, indeed, is what their request entails.
If you want to share in the glory of a warrior, you have to fight by his side; if you want to share the glory of a politician, you have to campaign by her side. To share Christ’s glory, you have to suffer.
As the Lord promises in the first reading, “Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many.”
As the second reading stresses, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.”
They agree — and only then does Jesus mention that it isn’t really his place to give them a special seat or not. That’s his Father’s job.
As it turned out, both John and James did suffer a great deal for Jesus in their lives — James is the only apostle whose martyrdom is recorded in the New Testament. And, as it turns out, the Father seems to have given them excellent placement. They have both shared in Christ’s glory. John’s image is carved, painted or inscribed in glass in many churches; google St. James, and you find the many, many places named for the saint.
But the lesson Jesus teaches them is important: “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave to all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.”
There is a lot of comfort in his words: After all, we are the ones he came to serve. But there is also a great challenge. We have to follow in his footsteps.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas,
where he lives with April, his wife and in-house theologian and consultant, and their children.