theunfamiliarname

Homily for SS John and James

In Uncategorized on July 25, 2010 at 11:48 am

None of us, I’m sure,
ever makes deals with God.

None of us says quietly to ourselves,
“I’ll do that, but I expect this in return”,
or “If you do this one little thing, then I’ll know you really love me”.

There’s a certain serpent-like subtlety
that sometimes sneaks into our inner conversation with our Creator.

Not so with the Zebedee family, mum and the two boys.
This is not a subtle family.

They put their cards right on the table
and mum, being a good mother,
looking out for her boys,
wants to reserve the best seats in the coming Kingdom,
for her James and John…
after all, where would the world be without motherly ambition,
and a little political patronage?

Not subtle.  And it ran in the family.
Not for nothing were James and John called by Jesus the “Sons of Thunder”.
I think of them, for any cricket fans, a little like the Geoff Boycotts of the Bible,
or possibly for rugby fans, closer to home, the Andy Haydens…
always willing to call a spade a spade,
however one-eyed or off-mark.

Two of Jesus closest disciples, his friends, this James and John,
for all their obviousity.  Perhaps because of it.
There’s no subtlety at work here.

What there is, is a profound misapprehension of what Jesus’ mission is about.
James and John are keen for the Palm Sunday glory,
with the crowds and the honour and the smiting of enemies under one’s feet…
They have not yet understood that this is not a Messiah in the political sense.
And, while their faith and eagerness to follow Jesus is laudable,
they are making promises it will prove impossible to keep.

Promises which presage their witness as martyrs,
but not until they, like all the disciples, desert Jesus in his hour of need.

The whole story is really a very human reflection on discipleship.
Caught up in the power and prestige of an earthly expectation,
James and John are quick to claim their loyalty to Christ
and to look for their reward,
a reward in terms of power and prestige.
Yet we know that when the price of their calling becomes apparent,
when the error of their expectation is brought home,
they will – like all the others – run away.

There is a lesson they and we are being taught.
James and John are with Jesus in the glory of the mountaintop,
Jesus’ Transfiguration,
James and John are in the Garden where Jesus weeps in anguish
before he is betrayed.

In reality, the two disciples most eager to share in Jesus’ glory,
who claim they can indeed drink the same cup as their Lord,
these two will flee with all the others when Jesus is arrested.

In reality, at his right and his left hands on the cross
will be two criminals.

The reaction of the other disciples in our gospel today, too,
is a very human one.  They are angry,
and angry beyond exasperation at the sheer gumption of the approach,
… afraid that they might themselves lose something
if the brothers’ request is granted.
Out of this situation, Jesus teaches something
about his ministry and about ours;  about his kingship
and about the way that those who would be his disciples need to follow.
“Whoever”, Jesus says, “would be great among you, must be your servant.”

This is a teaching at odds with our age.
It goes against everything that society, business and politics seems to tell us.
Those who have power in this world are not by right great in the eyes of God.
True greatness is measured in terms of our service.
Not just to the Church, but to the people we meet every day.
To those we do not want to be with, let alone serve.

This Social Services Sunday we hold this central teaching
and we affirm it.
And we note the cost inherent in the call to discipleship,
which is a call to justice and costly witness:
for James and John, witness to the gospel meant martyrdom.
Suffering and service beyond any sense of themselves, or at least their selfishness.

This is at the heart of our calling.
To be a servant means to be at the disposal of others,
to not put a price on our time or our attention,
to be responsive to the needs of those around us.
To give and not to count the cost.
To try to help meet the real needs of those that God gives to us to minister to:
needs that are spiritual, needs that are physical, needs that are for justice.

As we pray this day for our social service agencies,
let us look around us at this servant-community,
small and beautiful, and more powerful than we know.

This gospel treasure we have in clay jars – fragile and stodgy –
waits to be opened and given away in our loving service.
Today… and all our days.  Amen.

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