“She said to him, ‘Command that these two sons of mine may sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking.” (Matthew 20:21-22)
Today, we remember St. James, the first of the twelve apostles to suffer martyrdom under the sword of Herod. In today’s Gospel passage, the mother of James and John presents her sons before Jesus, saying: “Please permit that these two sons of mine may sit one at your left and the other at your right hand.”
James and John were sure that by bringing their mother to Jesus, He would not turn down their request. This is one lesson we learn from St. James: Prayer. Even though God knows our hearts, He wants us to ask. (Cf. Matthew 7:7). Like James and John, bring your mother to Jesus. How? Ask her to pray for you. You can ask the saints to pray for you, who you believe are now in heaven. As Jesus did not rebuff James and John for coming through their mother, Jesus listens when we ask others to pray for us.
Jesus asked: “Can you drink the cup I am about to drink?” James and John responded: “We are able!” (Matthew 20:22). St. James and his brother did not ask the meaning of the cup, whether it was a cup of sweet wine or a cup of bitter vinegar like that which Jesus sipped on the Cross of Calvary. For their zealousness, Jesus once described them as “Sons of Thunder.” (Cf. Mark 3:17).
To what extent do I desire heaven? Am I prepared to drink the cup? Am I prepared to deny myself, take up my daily crosses and follow the footsteps of Jesus? On the other hand, am I only concerned about my daily bread? Am I only interested in what I can get from Jesus right now? St. James teaches us to make heaven our priority.
Jesus said: “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom my Father has prepared it.” (Matthew 20:23). This response of Jesus is quite puzzling. It makes us wonder, “Is there any difference between God the Son and God the Father?” I believe Jesus was trying to pass across a message here – in heaven; there would be no need for anyone to lord over another.
Jesus further explained that Heaven operates very differently from this world. While a seat at the right or left of Jesus would be interpreted as a “high position” in earthly terms (Deputy Jesus, second in command, etc.), it may be the opposite in heaven. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you, but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave” (Matthew 20:25-27)
Another lesson St. James teaches us today is never to give up on God when it appears our requests are not granted. St. James did not resign from the company of the twelve apostles. He drank the cup and shed his blood to defend the Christian faith. He did not deny Jesus. St. Paul teaches us in today’s first reading not to be discouraged by whatever suffering, pain or disappointments we face as Christians: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
Let us pray: Almighty ever-living God, deepen in me the desire for heaven. Through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
Bible Study: 2 Corinthians 4:7-15, Ps. 126:1-6, Matthew 20:20-28).*
@Rev. Fr. Evaristus E. Abu