From today’s Word Among Us:
The mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus … wishing to ask him for something. (Matthew 20:20)
What bad timing! Jesus had just told his disciples about his coming passion, death, and resurrection. It must have been an emotionally charged moment, but that didn’t keep James and John’s mother from asking for a favor for her sons! Even the two brothers seemed oblivious as they eagerly offered to drink from Jesus’ cup, unaware of what that “cup” entailed! To make matters worse, the other disciples grumbled against them for trying to get special treatment.
But as awkward as it must have been, this woman’s timing was also providential. It gave Jesus the opportunity to teach the Twelve—again—that grasping for power is not a mark of a disciple. Greatness in God’s kingdom consists in self-giving, not in self-aggrandizement.
This is a lesson that everyone needs to hear over and over again, and Jesus had no problem repeating it. Like many of his teachings, Jesus knew that it wasn’t enough simply to state it once and then move on.
Why do we need so much repetition? It’s not that we are hard of hearing. It’s not that we are slow of mind. It’s that many of our fallen, sinful philosophies and expectations are so deeply held that nothing but continual reminders will dislodge them.
Jesus’ gospel is not just a minor variation on the ways of the world. It’s a whole new message. Rather than teaching revenge, he tells us to turn the other cheek. Rather than looking out for ourselves first, he asks us to give top priority to the poor and needy and defenseless. Rather than focus on our careers and comfort, he wants us to fix our eyes on heaven and on building his Church.
The good news is that we don’t have to figure this out all by ourselves. Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit to write his words on our hearts. Yes, we need to learn all that Jesus taught. But we also need the Spirit to bring these truths to life for us. He alone has the power to transform our thinking so that we can become more like Jesus!
“Lord, help me to train my mind so that I can experience your transforming power!”
Jeremiah 18:18-20; Psalm 31:5-6, 14-16
So, this one has always posed a bit of a challenge for me. There’s a seeming contradiction in the exhortation to give top priority to the poor, needy and defenseless at the expense of “looking out for ourselves first”. After all, you cannot give something away that you yourself do not have. A great metaphor for this is airline safety: haven’t we all been through the routine prior to take-off when we’re advised in the case of an emergency to secure our own oxygen first, then help the ones around us?
Growing up as a Catholic schoolgirl, it always confounded me how so many of the nuns and priests would condemn success and “rich” people, yet clamor for members of the congregation to donate weekly to the offertory and throughout the year to various drives for the missions, the poor, etc. Well how could congregants donate money if they themselves were not making it through their successful professions and business ventures? Even at a very young age I struggled with this contradiction, compounded by the fact that I was often singled out as a “rich doctor’s daughter”.
Knowing my father to be an honorable, humble and hard-working man who as the son of Italian immigrants had to work his way through high school, college and medical school — happily, I might add as he was grateful for the opportunity — I could never reconcile the fact that Jesus would condemn my dad and others like him as nothing but greedy, self-centered human beings unworthy of heaven. Weren’t they doing the Lord’s work in a way by caring for the sick and providing for their families?
And while I believe it’s important for children who come from good homes to understand how blessed they are to have loving families and live in the USA, it also confounded me that while telling us stories about the poor in Africa, for example, nuns and priests would never condemn the despotic regimes that enslaved their own people. Instead, they’d blame the USA — a country that has been a beacon of freedom and hope for countless millions across the globe. It’s also a country that has sacrificed much blood and treasure to free others from tyranny and oppression.
When I read today’s meditation, these are the things that came to mind. I am truly not trying to pick a fight here; merely offering my two-cents’ as someone who believes in God’s purpose for each and every life. When someone like my dad achieves their God-given desires, certainly it is incumbent upon them to be generous — as my parents have always been. But in order to share with others, it is necessary to first focus on your own success, so that you might actually have something of value to give away. Otherwise, you’re just another person drowning, instead of the person with the life-line who has the ability to pull the drowning person to safety. And what of teaching a man to fish? Is it not the best demonstration of charity to help someone else learn to fend for themselves and their families?
What are your thoughts? Am I misinterpreting? Do you agree? Disagree? Let’s discuss.