I have arrived OK at our SOLT motherhouse in Kent – all is peaches and cream! I stayed overnight in London with my colleague Fr Copsey who is resting at the moment.
GOSPEL: Matthew 20:20-28
You shall drink my cup.
The mother of Zebedee’s sons came with her sons to make a request of him, and bowed low; and he said to her, ‘What is it you want?’ She said to him, ‘Promise that these two sons of mine may sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your kingdom’. ‘You do not know what you are asking’ Jesus answered. ‘Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?’ They replied, ‘We can.’ ‘Very well,’ he said ‘you shall drink my cup, but as for seats at my right hand and my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted by my Father.’
When the other ten heard this they were indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that among the pagans the rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants 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 as a ransom for many.’
The BIBLE ALIVE commentary today really hits the mark.
At the height of his prowess the champion boxer Muhammad Ali adopted the slogan ‘I am the greatest’. Although a likeable and decent man, as a professional boxer he used this phrase to intimidate and undermine his opponents. Whether he thought deep down that he was the greatest we don’t know, but as a boxer fighting for the world championship a degree of self-belief is important.
Jesus turned the world’s idea of greatness completely on its head. In his eyes the truly great and noble are not those who lord it over others, but those who serve. It was a concept that the disciples had to learn the hard way, as we see in today’s reading.
The mother of James and John was like ever, ambitious mother since time immemorial. She believed in her sons and associated ambition and success with position and pride of place. She approached Jesus believing that a little bit of maternal pressure would secure privilege and position for them. Her understanding of Jesus was horizontal and limited. She could neither have envisaged what her request might entail (i.e. brutal death) nor have understood that Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world. When the news of her approach got out to the other disciples, they were understandably indignant.
The Lord’s teaching on humility changes everybody’s understanding of what it means to be great. When God measures the greatness of an individual, he puts the tape measure around the heart not the head. The Christian vision is one which exalts the humble and humbles the exalted. This teaching has always been counter-cultural because human nature desires adulation, recognition and exaltation.
Underpinning this teaching is the philosophy that all we have comes from God. If we take hold of this philosophy we will understand the teaching. Our intelligence, our gifts, our talents, our wealth: everything we have is a gift from God. The truly great acknowledge this and give praise to God.
`God’s servant is like a painting, a creature of God, through whom God is honoured because of his blessings. He must not lay claim to any more merit than the wood and colour do.’ (St Francis of Assisi)