October 18, 2009


Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left. – Mark 10: 38

Today’s Gospel provides an antidote to our tendency to romanticize the apostles. They were just as human as we are. Clearly, power & prestige were on their minds. ‘What’s in it for me?’ is a universal human sentiment. A line from the “Last Supper” scene in the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar is right on target. In it, the apostles sing a smug refrain of personal ambition:

Always hoped that I’d be an Apostle

Knew that I would make it if I tried

Then when we retire we can write the Gospels

So they’ll still talk about us when we’ve died.

The truth is that there were times when the apostle’s loyalty to Jesus was motivated by self-interest, & it would be safe to say that that is still true of many who call themselves Christian today.

It is hardly surprising that the others became angry when they heard of the request James & John made to Jesus. Spiritual & social climbers always upset other spiritual & social climbers. The drive to be first makes others feel last & conflict erupts. The time will come when they all realize that following Jesus does not mean an endless upward escalator to glory, which means there is hope for us too. In the meantime, our Lord makes this into a teaching opportunity to show them ALL how wrong-headed the request is.

Now, putting others first means first of all denying ourselves something. Sometimes that is easy: most parents have little hesitation to deny themselves things for the sake of their children. Athletes have little trouble denying themselves all sorts of things for the sake of victory. That’s because these are still egocentric goals. When it comes to most other people, it is not so easy.

First of all, it means an interior attitude of detachment, but it also means actually giving up something of importance. It does little good to fast from something during Lent that we care little about. It must be something that really costs us to give up.

This is one area we have in common with other religions. A favorite saying of Mahtma Ghandi was “Renounce & enjoy.” He was more aware of the sufferings of a self-centered life than the sufferings of an other-centered life. A saying attributed to the Buddha goes “For those whom ego overcomes, sufferings spread like wild grass.” To relinquish our demand to have everything the way we want it all the time is to be free to entertain what we would have previously pushed away.

Our ego is a very small piece of the world. When we strenuously attach ourselves to it, we reduce our enjoyment. Detachment is the door into a larger world. This doesn’t mean it is an easy door to open. It is definitely a struggle to change our role in life from an ego asset into service of others. What makes it possible to persevere in this struggle is the grace of God & a glimpse of the greater freedom & joy on the other side of self-centeredness. AMEN!