IN THOSE DAYS, Jesus took the twelve disciples aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to Him, saying, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn Him to death. Then they will hand Him over to the Gentiles, and they will mock Him, and spit upon Him, and flog Him, and kill Him. And after three days He will rise again.”
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus and said to Him, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” And He said to them, “What is it you want Me to do for you?” And they said to Him, “Grant us to sit, one at Your right hand and one at Your left, in Your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink, you will drink. And with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized. But to sit at My right hand or at My left is not Mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you, whoever desires to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever desires to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
As we read the Gospels, all four accounts note that Jesus warned His disciples about His upcoming suffering and death. He didn't just warn them, He told them in exact details what will happen, including His resurrection and where they will have to go after the crucifixion to meet Him (to Galilee). The disciples, listening to Him, had no idea what He was talking about. We can see that by their reaction after every such prediction. Every time Jesus tells them that they are going to Jerusalem where He will be arrested, crucified, and then resurrect, they act like people who are still expecting Him to be an earthly hero, conqueror of the hated Roman occupiers.
For example, in the reading above, Jesus predicts His death and resurrection, and what is the first thing the disciples ask for? Just because they spent close to three years walking around with the Lord, witnessing to all the miracles He performed, listening to every word He taught, especially in private to them, they still were very much confused as to what kind of Messiah Jesus was.
And so, after Jesus predicts His suffering, death, and resurrection on the third day, two of the twelve disciples, namely James and John, who were brothers, come up to Him and ask Him to do whatever they want. And Christ does not rebuke them, but asks, "What do you want?" Wouldn't you want an ability to ask whatever you desire and He tell you to ask away?
Well, guess what? We do have this ability. We an ask whatever we want, but we have to be ready to receive it. James and John wanted to sit at the right and left hand of Christ. They were thinking in earthly terms. King's closest confidants and advisors usually set to the right and to the left of him. This is what James and John desired - to be #2 and #3 guys in the new kingdom that Jesus was to establish. Nothing more and nothing less.
Never mind that the whole group of Jesus and His disciples were jobless and homeless scatterers, James and John wanted to be the two most important figures after the king.
Just like to the two sons of Zebedee, we also have the ability to ask God whatever we want. After all, don't we already do that? However, we need to keep in mind two things, based on the example of James and John: 1) just because we can ask anything, we still need to be precise in what we ask because 2) we need to be sure we can handle what we are asking for.
They wanted to sit at the right and the left hand of the King of kings, and Jesus asks them, "Are you sure you are able to handle these positions? Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" Hastily they reply, "Yes." And Christ says, "Ok. You will."
The cup that Jesus drank was the cup of suffering, and the baptism with which He was baptized was the baptism of death. This awaits those who desire to be greatest in His Kingdom.
Today a lot of us are asking for one particular thing - to be delivered from the pandemic of the coronavirus. Are we able to handle what we are asking for? It's already evident that one of the sacrifices that we have to make in order to overcome the virus is physical isolation, including missing communal worship in church.
Now, for some missing church is a welcome thing because their conscience won't have to prick them when they decide to miss it or grumpily get ready for it. For others, church worship is that lifeline that sustains them from week to week.
Their are other sacrifices to make - lose income, not have an opportunity to visit our loved ones or friends, especially if they are in nursing homes or hospitals, depend completely on the civil authorities and hope that they are doing the right thing by shutting down the economy.
God only knows what other sacrifices we will have to make in order to be delivered from coronavirus. Given all this, and more, should we then maybe not pray about it. Absolutely not! We pray for God's mercy and love, and we prepare ourselves to drink whatever cup comes with it.
"To sit at My right hand or at My left is not Mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." Places are prepared for each and every one of us in God's Kingdom, they are ours for the taking. Our reaction to life's events is one of the determining factors of whether we will occupy our rightful places.
So I would like to propose three steps of training ourselves to have the right reaction the life's events - 1) pray for what you desire; 2) pray for the strength to be able to handle what you ask for; 3) and receive what you asked for with patient endurance.
For last year's reflection, click here.
Yours in the Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest