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Matthew 20:20-28

The Word of God

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favour of him. And he said to her, 'What do you want?' She said to him, 'Declare that these two sons of mine will 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. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?' They said to him, 'We are able.' He said to them, 'You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.' When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, '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; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.'

Matthew 20:20-28
  • Some thoughts on today's scripture

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    • Today is the feast of St James, one of the three who formed Jesus’ inner circle. Yet even he found it difficult to understand Jesus and his logic of the cross. The Gospels does not present the apostles as perfect but as ordinary men who struggled to accept Jesus’ teaching. Yet they succeeded to carry out with great faithfulness Jesus’ command to take the gospel to the whole world. I too am not perfect, I find Jesus’ teachings often difficult to understand, and hard to follow. Like James and his friends, in my frailty, I too feel called to take Jesus to others.
    • In one form or another, the temptation to dominate others is always lurking in our hearts. So much energy is wasted on this quest to lord it over others, even within the Church itself. Jesus’ call is radical indeed: It will not be so among you. I look at Jesus, who came to serve and not to be served, and pray to desire to be in all things like him, to be able to drink his cup.
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    • James and John were two of the three apostles who were closest to Jesus. Yet they too seem to have misunderstood his message, and asked to be given the highest posts in the future kingdom. No wonder I too feel so attracted to power and prestige, and that even the Church nowadays seems not to be exempt from power struggles. I ask for a deeper understanding of the Gospel and its radical message of service. I ask Jesus to make me a real disciple of his, able to drink the same cup he drank.
    • The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. I dwell on these words, looking at Jesus as he deals so patiently with his quarrelling apostles, with his Church nowadays, with me in all my fickleness. I look at him as he washes my feet, as he dies for me on the Cross. I look in wonder and deep gratitude, and feel in me the urge to trust him more and more.
  • Some thoughts on today's scripture

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    • James and John were two of the three apostles who were closest to Jesus. Yet they too seem to have misunderstood his message, and asked to be given the highest posts in the future kingdom. No wonder I too feel so attracted to power and prestige, and that even the Church nowadays seems not to be exempt from power struggles. I ask for a deeper understanding of the Gospel and its radical message of service. I ask Jesus to make me a real disciple of his, able to drink the same cup he drank.
    • The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. I dwell on these words, looking at Jesus as he deals so patiently with his quarrelling apostles, with his Church nowadays, with me in all my fickleness. I look at him as he washes my feet, as he dies for me on the Cross. I look in wonder and deep gratitude, and feel in me the urge to trust him more and more.
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    • By being willing to go to his death for the sake of his message, Jesus could offer up to the Father in heaven the most perfect of lives – on behalf of all of humanity : even though, on the eve of his death, he knew that his sufferings were going to be a bitter ‘cup’. The giving of his life, then, was the offering of himself as a ‘ransom’ – that lowliest of services, that self-abasement which reminds one of slavery.
    • On this level of service, was built his kingdom : one could distinguish oneself in such a kingdom only by the depth of generosity of one’s service. (Quite possibly he means that it’s on this criterion, that the Father assigns places of honour).
    • So then, the mother of James and John was ‘sorely mistaken’ in what she supposed would lead to ‘promotion’ in Jesus’ kingdom.
    • And he uses the incident as a lesson for his disciples. ‘Greatness’ among his followers is not to be measured by one’s power to ‘lord it’ over others – rather, the opposite : it is those most willing to put themselves at the service of others, who take the prize.
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    • The disciples in this scene from today’s Gospel think of being with Jesus in terms of having power and influence. Jesus, however, makes it clear that to have power or to be a leader is to serve, just as he does, to the extent of giving up his life for us.
    • Talk to Jesus about how he turns our ideas of greatness on their head and most importantly about how attractive this has made him to his followers down the centuries.
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    • On the feast of James, one of Jesus' inner circle, I rejoice in the faithfulness of these men. They were ready to let the Spirit enable them to overcome their many shortcomings, transforming them into the first apostles of the Good News of the Kingdom. Thanks to them and their love of Jesus, their readiness to drink the cup he was about to drink, the faith has come to us and to billions of others throughout the world. I ask for gratitude, and for their sense of urgency in spreading the Gospel to the whole world.
    • We are always impressed by how often the Gospel portrays even those closest to Jesus struggling with questions of power and service. I look into my own heart, and dwell on Jesus' words on the Christian's attitude to such an important aspect of our life together. I ask for the grace to grow in my imitation of him who came to serve and not to be served.
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    • Jesus says that he did not come to be served but to serve. He wants me to use my talents to serve others. How available am I?
    • The Ignatian motto is ‘to love and serve in all things’. We are here to serve others – not to bask in comfort and power. The more good things come our way, the more we should serve the needy sisters and brothers of Jesus. Lord, give me a generous heart.
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    • The mother of the sons of Zebedee desired greatness for her sons, wishing that they could both occupy the top places in Jesus’ kingdom. She was yearning for recognition on their part but Jesus points out that true greatness is to be expressed by a deep humility and a willingness to serve.
    • Lord, help me to have a humble and caring attitude towards all the people you put in my path and to recognise your loving presence in them. I pray for the grace to give of my time without the anticipation of receiving something in return, confident that I will receive my real reward in your heavenly kingdom.
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    • Jesus seems to ask, ‘Are you ready to endure hardship with the prospect of reward?’ only to go on to say to the brothers that they should be ready to endure even without any promise of what they covet. They had to ask, ‘Are we in this for God or for ourselves?’ True prayer will not allow us to shirk questions like these which hook out the truth.
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    • Jesus responds to an ambitious mother by explaining that the ways and values of this world are not those of God. This gospel challenges me regarding my own pride. Does selfish ambition ever get in the way of my service of God and neighbour. Do I ever lord it over others? Can I be a tyrant on occasion?
    • Jesus came not only to serve but ‘to give his life as a ransom for many’. The great saints were moved by the extremes to which Jesus went to demonstrate God’s infinite love for humanity. May I be similarly moved so as to express always my profound love and gratitude to God for what Jesus has done.
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    • The mother of James and John wanted promotion for her sons. Their elevation would make her prominent too! Did Jesus smile sympathetically at her before warning her that in his kingdom, all human values are turned upside down?
    • Jesus is sensitive: he defends the two brothers against the other apostles. Then he broadens everyone’s perspective. He is saying: ‘You all want to be great? Fine! You will indeed become great – by serving others.’ And so it was. In my prayer, I let him ask me about my quality of service. This is what measures my closeness to him.