Today, the Apostles James and John make their big pitch in order to move up the ladder in Jesus’ organization. “[Jesus,] grant that in your glory we may sit, one at your right, and the other at your left.” Jesus says to them, “You do not know what you are asking.”
They jump at the chance to drink of Jesus’ cup and to be baptized in His baptism, whatever that means, because they have no idea that these are allusions to Christ’s suffering. Jesus tells them, ‘You will drink my cup and experience my baptism, but to sit at my right and my left is for those for whom it has been prepared.’ Where are the seats beside Christ in His glory? The Gospel of Mark later tells us: “With [Jesus] they crucified two revolutionaries, one on his right and one on his left.” Indeed, James and John don’t know what they’re really asking.
They want spots beside Jesus’ throne because they think this will put their lives on Easy Street. They think that being enthroned at Christ’s side in glory means they will be served by everyone, and that they will never have to serve anyone else, ever again, besides Jesus of course. James and John want to live like as princes, like the billionaires, the bosses, and the big shots in the world. But true greatness is very different.
Whoever wishes to be great, Jesus says, must be a servant. And whoever wishes to be the greatest of all, must be the servant to everyone. But we might ask why anyone would want this sort of greatness? Who wants to be a slave or to be crucified with Christ? And yet, Jesus offers such self-offering as the only greatness truly worth seeking? Why? Because true love equals self-gift, and in heaven love lasts forever.
In the world out there, there is a hierarchy according to wealth and power. For the Church on earth, Christ establishes a hierarchy according to orders. But for the Church in heaven, the hierarchy is established according to love. There is no money to be had in heaven. Greatness there is measured according to the love you can give and the love you receive from others.
Consider, who is more beloved on earth, Blessed Mother Teresa or the richest person in the world? And who is more likely to have a higher in heaven? When Mother Teresa died a million people turned out for her funeral. She, like all the saints, is rich in love.
If you desire true and lasting greatness, imitate Christ on earth, who became a slave for us. Jesus did not come to be served but to serve. And through His trials and self-sacrifice, He offered his life as a ransom for us and won our hearts for Himself.
Though it is worthwhile, it isn’t easy to follow Christ. If we serve Him, we should expect temptations, trials and sufferings, too, just like Him. Trials are normal for the Christian life and we should expect them.
As Saint Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”
Temptations are normal for the Christian life, too. Jesus Himself was tempted in the desert and in the garden. As the second reading says, “…We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.” Understand and remember that human weakness and temptations are not the same thing as sin. It is not a sin to be tempted. Jesus was weak and tempted like us, but he never sinned. We only sin when we give in to temptation, when heart says “yes” to them.
Believe it or not, the saints know more about fierce temptation than unrepentant sinners do. The saints do battle against strong temptations, with the sacraments and prayer, with penance and self-disciple. Many hardened sinners, on the other hand, don’t even know they are being tempted. One time, St. Catherine of Sienna, after she had made great progress in holiness, was subjected to the most violent temptations. Impure images filled her imagination and darkness attacked her heart. She called on God but He seemed to be absent. After these temptations had ceased, Jesus visited her, filling her with heavenly consolation. “Ah, my Divine Spouse,” she cried out, “where were you when I laid in such an abandoned and frightful condition?” “I was in your heart,” he replied, “fortifying you by grace.” “What, in the midst of the filthy abominations with which my soul was filled?” “Yes,” Jesus said, “for these temptations were most displeasing and painful to you. By fighting against them, you have gained immense merit, and the victory was because of my presence.”
When Jesus asked James and John if they could drink His cup and be baptized in His baptism, they eagerly responded, “We can!” Did they entirely know what this meant? No. Do we entirely know what it will mean for us to give our yes to Christ and to follow in His footsteps? No. But with that little seed from James and John, Jesus was able to grow them into great saints.
Jesus Christ is the greatest person who has ever lived. No one has been greater and no one has done greater things. No one has loved better and no one is better loved. Let’s follow in his footsteps, even if that means the cross, for to be remade in His image means sharing in His greatness, His glory and His joy.