Echoes of the Word is an occasional newsletter from the monks of Ampleforth Abbey, featuring reflections on the readings, feasts and seasons of the Church's year and the journey of discipleship. Click here if you are interested in subscribing.
Echoes of the Word 25th July 2017
The mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus 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.’
Commentary on Matthew 20:20-28
In Jesus’ mind, anyone who holds sacred power must be wholeheartedly
dedicated to promoting the interests of their brothers and sisters, so that all may be saved. We
are familiar with the pitfalls of this already from experience: we can choose
to use the power of the human spirit either to love or to dominate; and it
seems the two can be at times difficult to distinguish – “I am doing this for
your own good!” The indignation of the other disciples towards James and
John is a window onto a complex choreography of love, in which the family is
the place where we count, where we make a difference, where we find that others
are there for us and we must be there for them. ‘You shall drink my cup,
but as for seats at my right and left, these are not mine to grant.’ No one can
proclaim the gospel to themselves; we must first receive the Word of God, so
that once He has made His home in us, then we can make our home in Him.
Feast of St James the Greater, Apostle
Today’s James (one of several Jameses in the New Testament) is the brother of the Apostle John. When Jesus called them, the two brothers left their fishing boats and their father Zebedee and followed Jesus immediately. Both witnessed his Transfiguration. They were clearly eager disciples and part of Jesus’s inner circle. They were also flawed and impetuous: Jesus had to ‘hose them down’ when they asked whether they should call down fire from heaven on some unreceptive Samaritans. The brothers had to learn slowly what discipleship was and wasn’t about. When [in St Mark's version: Mk 10:35-45] they boldly asked to sit on Jesus’s right and left in his glory, he gently told them that they didn’t know what they were saying. "Are you able to drink the cup that I drink…?” “Yes!” they insisted and Jesus acknowledged that one day they would. And indeed James eventually became the first Apostle to suffer martyrdom. He had learnt that Jesus wasn’t just a genie or a king arbitrarily dispensing honours to his cronies (“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you,” the brothers had asked). James had finally absorbed Jesus’s admonition that his followers were not to seek the highest places but to become humble servants, imitating their Lord who would “give his life as a ransom for many.” Heavenly glory is indeed a gift but it doesn’t come to us by magic: we must follow Jesus (patiently) to glory, being moulded by his teachings – rather than our own will or rash fervour – and seeking to live as he lived.
A monk of Ampleforth