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Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you …. Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” (Mk. 10:15)

You have to hand it to James and John, the sons of Zebedee.

They had chutzpah!

Imagine being gutsy enough to just come right out and say: “I want glory.” “I want to be number One.” Or, to put it in Facebook parlance, “I want to get more ‘likes’ than anyone else.”

These guys – James and John – must be honored for their honesty. Because, let’s face it, we all want the same. We want to be noticed and publicly praised. Consider all the award shows: best actor, best singer, best writer, best director, best … whatever. It’s a natural desire that’s built into us.

In fact, it is so normal that when I was growing up, I was repeatedly reminded to not “get the big head,” or, as my Irish grandmother would put it, “climb down from your big white horse.”
Jesus is more polite. He doesn’t criticize James and John. He simply says, “I know that’s what you want, and so does everyone else.”

But Jesus tells James and John – and each one of us:  
“It shall not be so among you.” (Mk. 10:42)

You are not called to “lord it over” others, Jesus tells them – and each one of us, but rather to humbly acknowledge every person’s inner dignity, and to embrace the role of servant rather than master.

Once again, we are reminded that with Jesus everything is turned upside down. 

The “glory” that James and John speak of will be a cross.
The “attention” they crave will be the acceptance of terrible suffering.

The “power” they seek will be humble service.
The “greatness” they desire will be loving hospitality.
That’s what is meant by the word “disciple” – a follower of a certain “way”.  

For Jesus that “way” is this:  

Fall in love.

We are invited to abandon our obsession for self-gain and instead fall in love with God.  To apply Jesus’ answer to the question of what is the greatest of all the commandments, what is the best route to derail our self-centeredness, the answer clearly is to fall in love – to love God with everything in us: heart and soul and mind.  

But what does it mean to do that?

The gospel tells us it means many things, but maybe most importantly, this:

It means to love what God loves, to be as passionate as God is about what is important to Him. And the gospels tell us repeatedly that what God loves the most is the whole of creation. “For God so loved the world,” John’s gospel tells us. All of creation. Not just us people.

A university professor tells the story about how he regularly introduced his religion course. On the very first day of class, he told his students:

“Take ten minutes to write the most passionate love letter you can. Feel free to imagine anyone you want. But don’t address it to anybody – leave that blank.”

When the students finished, he would say: “Now write at the top, ‘Dear God.’” The students were startled. They had never thought of the language of passionate love as a way of speaking about their relationship to someone as sacred as God.

God has a dream. And his dream is that everyone will fall in love – a love that will cause them to give up their self-idolatry and help create a world of hospitality and compassion and service.
As the prophet Micah put it thousands of years ago:

            And what does the Lord require of you?
            Only this: to do justice, to love kindness,
            And to walk humbly with your God.
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.
On October 10, Pope Francis opened a worldwide “Synod.” To quote the National Catholic Reporter, “For the pope, decades of clericalism have resulted in an abuse of power in the church that has gone unchecked and unchallenged. The synod process, which begins by listening and putting those experiences first, is, for the pope and the synod organizers, the formal means to begin to do just that.” The main purpose of the Synod is to build a culture that can heal the wounds of the church in regard to the crisis of abuse.

“In the opening pages of the synod’s preparatory document, the church’s painful history of abuse is put front and center as a motivating factor the synod process.”

As Pope Francis put it, the Synod seeks to encounter the realities the church faces, listen to “one another – bishops, priests, religious and laity, all the baptized … listen “to the challenges and changes set before us.” After listening, the Pope wishes to “discern spiritually … so that the church “can ask ourselves what it is that God wants to say to us in this time – and the direction in which he wants to lead us.”

Encounter. Listen. Discern.

May we all join in this world wide deliberative process with much prayer.

Art by Jim Matarelli 

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