Proper 24B; October 18, 2015
Trinity by the Cove Episcopal Church
When you listen to this Gospel story and you put yourself into the story – who do you identify with? The Zebedee brothers who are coming to Jesus to ask for a special favor, to seal the deal for their future fame and fortune? Or maybe your first gut reaction is with the other disciples – angry that James and John would dare to be so presumptuous – and resentful of their attempt to pull this off at the relative expense of everyone else. And perhaps, if truth be told, they’re a bit jealous that they didn’t move quicker to get their own piece of the pie?
When I’m honest with myself, I must admit to a recurring desire to be special, to be successful. I want to do something that someone will notice . . . something that will make a difference . . . something admirable – that might even make the headlines somewhere. So I think I need to pay attention to Jesus’ response to the request of James and John – made as they are traveling the road to Jerusalem – on the way to the cross.
Jesus is walking along out ahead of the twelve. James and John catch up with him to ask a favor. But they start out by trying to manipulate Jesus – trying to get him to say YES before they tell him what they want – they’re looking for that spiritual blank check. Probably not the best way to go about it, but oh so human, especially when there’s something “not quite right” about the whole proceeding to begin with.
Then comes the request: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
And Jesus replies, “To sit at my right or left is not mine to grant. . .” But, more to the point: “You don’t know what you’re asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” At this point, James and John are in a hurry to try secure their future success. “Sure we can do that . . .”
The deeper truth of their ambitions goes straight over their heads. The daunting implications here are these: that in order to live they will have to drink the cup of pain and suffering until it becomes for them the cup of salvation . . . and they will have to drown in deep waters before they rise to new life with Jesus.
So what about us – you and me? How deeply do we understand and consider the daunting implications of those vows we make and affirm in our Baptismal Covenant? How well do we persevere in resisting evil? Strive for justice and peace? “Sure, we can do that . . . No problem.” ???
In the gospel story, the presumption, the naïveté – the great faux pas – of the Zebedee brothers sets the stage for one of Jesus’ greatest teachings: Jesus says to his disciples . . . (and he says to us, as well): “The great among you must be a servant of all.”
Jesus’ disciples struggled with this message . . . How well do we “get it” – or do we prefer not to get it . . . How well do we live it?
In our day, as in the day of the twelve, what counts in the culture around us is being up in front . . . being applauded . . . recognized . . . cheered . . . head of the class . . . beating out all our competitors . . . We live in a culture where success is achievement – and failure is unacceptable. Our culture teaches us the importance of being effective . . . making it . . . being number one. . .
And we’re willing to work hard for that prize. We’re willing to give up so much – even sacrificing more than we really have to give . . . So what about the price? – the price of stress . . . or the damage to relationships … or self-compromising our integrity..
The Gospel of Jesus is not a gospel of success and prosperity. Jesus never says, “Be effective; succeed at all costs.” Instead he says, “Live for each other; live with me.” Like Jesus, we too will suffer . . . but in that suffering, we will find life. We will meet ourselves as we already are: created in God’s image.
Back to our baptismal promises: “Continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?” OK, but what do they really have to do with anything that matters?
The gospel teaching continues. . . Jesus says: “I have come to serve. I am with you. Do as I do. This is Jesus’ word – his instruction about how we are to live as baptized, reborn people: we’re called to be signs of God’s presence and action in the world, we’re called to proclaim God’s kingdom , we’re called to be advocates of those who are denied God’s benefits and blessings.
Jesus’ word here can be hard to comprehend and even more difficult to live into faithfully. We need to look for ways to sustain that lingering experience of baptism – we need to look for ways to enhance our on-going Christian formation . . . (And to this end, be sure to check into Trinity-by-the- Cove’s new formation group “Spreading the Good News” – set to begin in a few weeks!)
With our baptism, we learn the truth about ourselves and how God wants us to live. We spend the rest of our lives living into this truth. And we make Eucharist; we give thanks for God’s care for us: for grace that frees us from our addiction to success in purely worldly endeavors, for the grace that washes us clean in Jesus’ precious blood . . . for grace that sets us free. Over and over again at the Eucharistic table, we are renewed as Christ’s body, and sent back into the world – with a fresh vision of God’s intention for us and renewed vigor to live into God’s vision.
So . . . “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons? . . .
Absolutely! . . . With God’s help!