Sharing More in Christ's Life
by Rev. Joseph M. Rampino
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." He replied, "What do you wish me to do for you?" They answered him, "Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left." Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" They said to him, "We can." 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 or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared." When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John. Jesus summoned the Twelve and said to them, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."
How do we look at our sufferings as Christians? Do we see them as pains simply to be avoided or ended as soon as possible? Do we see them as the unjust results of poor fortune? Do we see them as deserved punishments handed down from God for our sins, real or imagined? Do we see them as trials to be endured with silence and dignity, as proofs of our strength of character?
While each of these ways of understanding and bearing trials may, to greater or lesser extent, contain an element of truth, none of them represents a complete Christian understanding. Over-emphasizing one or another of these might well lead to servile fear, self-pity, resentment, discouragement or pride. Christ in this week’s Gospel offers a more complete way of understanding the trials that come to each of us.
When James and John ask for glory. Christ. speaking of his suffering and death, asks them if they can drink from his cup and undergo his own baptism. He is challenging them with the reality of sufferings, calling them away from any preoccupation with worldly prestige - but he does so by asking if they are willing to share more of his life with him. He presents the sufferings they, and every Christian, must undergo here i the world as a path to greater intimacy and friendship with him. He invites us not simply to follow at a distance as hearers and students, but to drink from the same vessel, and enter the same baptismal waters as he.
For a Christian, to humbly embrace the sufferings of this present life is not just a way to pay for one's sins or prove one's virtue, but to come in closer friendship with Christ who suffers. The teachings of our Christian faith do not simply aim at creating a world of sufficient penance or mere good behavior. The sacrifices present in Christian living also represent an invitation to share in Jesus' own life, extended to us as an act of divine love and mercy.
Christ does not tell James and John that they must not seek glory at all. He instead tells them that the condition of receiving glory is sharing his own trials, if they remain faithful, they can expect a glorious reward, and the Lord says elsewhere in the Gospels: "You who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones ... And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold" (Mt 19:28-9). This friendship with Jesus, the treasure hidden within our crosses and privations, leads through this life into the glory of the next. We d not suffer without the reward of the Lord's own glory in the presence of the Father.
Thus, the old Catholic advice to “offer it up” does not mean that we must grit our teeth in trials, give up our desire for that which is pleasant, and live painful lives without complaint. It means that we, like the apostles, must look for and believe in the presence of Jesus with us in our sufferings and love him there, where he is sharing his wounded heart with us most intensely. It means that we must have the courage to step forward and follow Christ through the trials we experience in this life, trusting that if we follow him in his death, we will in fact follow him into his glory as well.