Trinity XX

The Apostles James and John, the sons of Zebedee are also known as ‘Boanerges’, which means ‘The Sons of Thunder’. This name fits them to some extent as there is something quite loud and brash about the two brothers. The Gospel reading this morning is a good example of this. It begins by the brothers coming up to Jesus and asking Him, 

“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” (Mk 10 35)

That is a very bold request to make of anyone, let alone Jesus. But Our Lord does not seem shocked, surprised, or upset. Instead He replies quite calmly, 

“What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” (Mk 10:36-37)

This is quite something to ask for. It is really shocking. But there are some surprising assumptions underlying the disciples’ request. First, there is the assumption that Jesus will be glorified. Secondly that, as one possessing glory, Jesus really is the Messiah and the Son of God. Thirdly, James and John are asking for the seats of honour, to be Jesus’ right and left hand men, to be the leaders of the disciples. Jesus does not overreact, or get angry with them. Instead, He simply states,

“You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mk 10:38)

Jesus is absolutely correct. The sons of Zebedee have no idea what they are asking for. Jesus then asks them if they are able to drink the cup He will drink, or to share His baptism. Presumably James and John have no idea of what Jesus means by this, but in their enthusiasm, they readily agree. In the verses which come before today’s reading, Jesus has been teaching the Twelve for the third time that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer and die. At this point in the Gospel narrative, Jesus is making His final journey from Galilee up to Jerusalem, prior to His Passion and Death. Rather than being a military ruler bringing liberation to Israel, the Messiah will, in fact, be a Suffering Servant, as spoken of by the prophet Isaiah.

And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” (Mk 10:39-40)

Jesus does not tell James and John off, but He does prophesy that they will likewise face a violent end. It is not for Jesus to decide who will sit next to Him in Heaven. The conversation has, however, clearly upset the other disciples, who are not happy with James and John’s attempt to seek preeminence. Again, rather than telling them off, Jesus uses the opportunity to teach the disciples.

And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.”(Mk 10:41-42)

We are used to seeing depictions of Roman Emperors in films on TV. They wear purple clothes, the most expensive dye in the Ancient World, and they are treated as though they have an almost divine status. They are shown as absolute rulers, whose words and whims have to obeyed. In contrast to this, Jesus offers the Twelve a different paradigm:

“But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”(Mk 10:43-45)

Those who are to lead the Church are called to a life of service, of God and of others. The disciples are called to serve others, and not to seek power or prestige for themselves. The life of Jesus Christ, who gives his life ‘as a ransom for many’ (Mk 10:45) is our example. Christ willingly lays down His life to liberate people for God, to free them from death and sin, and to offer us eternal life in Heaven with God. This is why we celebrate Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection. The Cross and the Empty Tomb are the heart of our faith because they demonstrate God’s love for us. God loves each of us enough to die for us, and rises on the third day to show us that our eternal destiny is to enjoy God’s love forever in Heaven. The Christian Church proclaims this Gospel truth, and encourages all people to share in the gift God offers to us.

The first reading this morning is the second half of the fourth, and final, Servant Song of the prophet Isaiah, which we hear in full on Good Friday. The Church, from the time of the Apostles, has understood these verses as referring to Jesus. They speak of His passion, His Suffering and Death, for us. Christ fulfils the Scriptures and they find their true meaning in Him. In worldly terms, Jesus looks like a failure: He is deserted, denied, and dies the death of a common criminal. But we are not to judge by the standards of this world: ‘it shall not be so among you’ (Mk 10:43).

As Christians, we are being faithful to Christ. We are holding fast to our beliefs, because they are true, because they come from Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Through our faith we can ‘have confidence to draw near to the throne of grace and receive help in time of need’ (Heb 4:16). Our relationship with God is a mystery, not something to be explained, but something both to be experienced and lived out. It is a mystery which we will enter into this morning when Christ, as priest and victim, offers Himself for us. We receive Him, either spiritually or under the outward form of bread, and are transformed by Him, and enjoy the loving presence of God here and now and forever in Heaven. 

In living out God’s truth in our lives we live a service which is perfect freedom. In conforming ourselves to Christ we find meaning and identity. So let us lay down our lives that we may live fully and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen.

James Tissot – Jesus travelling

Trinity XIX

Every so often it is a good thing to take a step beck and take time to consider the things we do and why we do them. As humans, created in the image and likeness of God, we do not worship creation, but our Creator. We recognise in the goodness of creation a generous God. The practice of coming together to offer our praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bounty of the natural world, and for a harvest safely gathered in, is an ancient and honourable thing. The Ancient Israelites gave thanks for their life in the promised land, and we do likewise. As part of our worship of God, we offer Him the best of all that we have as a response to His bounteous generosity to us every day of our lives. 

When this church was built its congregation, who lived on and worked the land, would gather on the 1st August for Lammas (Loaf-Mass) to give thanks for a successful grain harvest. During the renewal of the Church in the nineteenth century the idea of a harvest celebration became popular once again. Naturally, we want to say, ‘Thank you’ to God for all that we have received from Him. That is right and proper. One way in which we can express our gratitude to God is by doing our best to care for the natural world around us and for the members of our community. This we do today by our collection of donations for the local food bank — much needed by many in these difficult times. 

In today’s first reading, the author prizes wisdom and understanding above all else. Without these things we act foolishly. Wealth, health, and human beauty — all the things of this world — are not worth anything, unless they are used well. God has given them to us for a purpose, so that we may flourish, and help others to thrive.  

The Gospel reading this morning starts with an important question. A man asks Jesus:

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10: 17) 

Jesus answers by stressing the importance of the moral law we know as the Ten Commandments, which were given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. These rules show us how our love of God and neighbour affects how we live our lives: we are called to live lives of generous love. Jesus  also says:

“Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mk 10:18)

Because Jesus is both God and man, He is good. He is a good teacher because He teaches the Truth, and He is the Truth (Jn 14:6). Jesus apparent refusal of the title ‘good’ reinforces the importance of humility for Christians. We need to be humble, and know our need of God.

The man tells Jesus that he has kept the Commandments since childhood, but wants to know if there is anything else he should do.

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mk 10:21-22)

Jesus looks at the man and loves him, because God is Love. God loves us. That is why He sent Jesus to be born among us, to proclaim the Good News to us, to die for us, and rise again. This is the heart of our faith: that God loves us. If I said nothing else to you this morning, or in the future, I say this: ‘Know that you are loved by God, and let this love transform your life’. Jesus calls the man to live out his faith by adopting radical generosity. This is difficult: I know that measured by such a standard, each and every one of us, myself included, regularly fails to live up to this ideal. So what can we do about it?

Some people are willing and able to fully comply with Jesus’ teaching and embrace radical poverty for the sake of the Kingdom. For example, by giving up all they possess, joining a religious community, and living lives of prayer and service. But all of us need to take to heart the advice of the Letter to the Hebrews:

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:16)

There are times in our lives when we have to do all sorts of difficult things, and if we were to rely solely upon our own strength and talents, then we will, undoubtedly, flounder at times. We are not meant to act alone, but as part of a community which looks to God as its strength. ‘I’ can’t, but God can, so let Him. When we rely upon God’s mercy and grace, His generous love towards us, then amazing things can and do happen.

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” (Mk 10:27)

To be a Christian is to be conscious of the generous love of God, which should make us generous in return, so that we live lives of generous love, in imitation of the one who loved us, Jesus Christ. Here we see the real meaning of our celebration of Harvest: God has been generous to us, so we should likewise be generous. If we are feeding the hungry and caring for the poor, then we are helping to make the Kingdom of God a reality, here and now. This is a good thing, and it is how God wants us to live.

Our desire to work for a world where none are hungry, where all are loved, requires our cooperation with the will of God, and our trust in Him. When we are fed by His Word and by the Eucharist our lives can be transfigured, and our faith strengthened and renewed. This gives us the strength to put our faith into action to change the world around us, transforming it to the will of God. So that everyone will sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen.

James Tissot – The Rich Young Man went away sorrowful

A Thought from St Francis de Sales

Do not look forward in fear to the changes and chances of this life; Rather, look to them with full confidence that, as they arise, God, to whom you belong will in His love enable you to profit by them.He has guided you thus far in life, and He will lead you safely through all trials; and when you cannot stand it, God will bury you in His arms.Do not look forward to what might happen tomorrow: The same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at Peace, then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginings.