TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
“You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them … But it is not so among you” Mk 10: 42
You have to hand it to James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They had chutzpah! Imagine being gutsy enough to just come right out and say: “I want glory.” “I want to be number one.” Or, to put it in today’s media parlance such as Facebook, “I want to get more ‘likes’ than anyone else.”
These guys – James and John – have to be honored for their honesty. Because, let’s face it, we want the same. We want to be noticed and publicly praised. Look at all the award shows: best actor, best singer, best director, best … whatever. It’s a natural desire that’s built into us.
It so normal, in fact, that when I was growing up, we were continually being reminded to not “get the big head,” or, as my Irish grandmother would put it, “to climb down from your high horse.”
Jesus is more polite. He doesn’t criticize James and John. He simply says, “I know that’s what you want, and so does everyone else. But it is not so among you.” You are not called to “lord it over” others, Jesus tells them, but to humbly acknowledge every person’s inner dignity, and to embrace the role of the servant rather than the master.
Once again we are reminded that with Jesus everything is turned upside down. The “glory” that these two men speak of will be a cross. The “attention” they crave will be the acceptance of terrible suffering. The “power” they seek will be humble service. The “greatness” they require will be loving hospitality.
That’s what is meant by the word “disciple” – a follower of a certain “way”.
For Jesus that “way” is this: fall in love. We are invited to abandon our fetish for self-gain and fall in love with God. To use the words of Jesus’ answer to the question of what is the greatest of all the commandments, what is the best route to derail our self-centeredness, he tells us clearly that it is to fall in love – to love God with everything in us: heart and soul and mind.
But what does it mean to do that? The gospel tells us that it means many things, but maybe most importantly, this: it means to love what God loves, to be as passionate as God is about what is most important to Him. And what the gospels tell us repeatedly is that what God loves the most is the whole of creation. “For God so loved the world,” as John’s gospel tells us. All of creation. Not just us persons.
A university professor tells the story about how he would introduce his religion course. On the very first day of class, he would tell his students: “Take ten minutes to write the most passionate love letter you can. Feel free to imagine anyone you want. But don’t address it to anybody – leave that blank.” When the students finished, he would say: “Now write at the top, ‘Dear God.’” The students were startled. They had never thought of the language of passionate love as a way of speaking about their relationship to someone as sacred as God.
God has a dream. And his dream is that everyone will fall in love – a love that will cause them to give up their self-idolatry and help create a world of hospitality and compassion and service.
As the prophet Micah put it thousands of years ago:
And what does the Lord require of you?
Only this: to do justice, to love kindness
And to walk humbly with your God.
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.