2 Cor 4:7-15; Ps 126:1-6; Mt 20:20-28
The best advertising is word of mouth. When people we trust tell us about a new product or a new program that has been a blessing for them we are more likely to purchase or participate than if we read about it or see an advert on a website. Today the church celebrates one of the great living adverts for the Lord Jesus and his gospel. This faithful witness of Christ Our God poured out his blood to give testimony to the Truth. We know so little about these twelve pillars of the Church. We do know a nickname for Saint James. Along with his brother Saint John, these two apostles are known as the Sons of Thunder. This name may come from the zeal of their witness, or from the thunderous response to these two and their mother in today’s gospel. They were like men dreaming. They had visions of glory; and plans to sit at the right and left of the King-Messiah. However, the vision of Christ and his dream of the kingdom had little to do with pomp and pageantry. The Lord Jesus came to summon his bride the Church. He began with the disciples some of whom would become his apostles. They were all captives. The Roman Emperor was in charge and owned everyone and everything in his empire. He forced the “pax romana” upon the world with an iron-fist diplomacy and an arrogant leadership style. His rule was based upon brutality and violence; no one was exempt not even Christ or his Twelve. Indeed, the Lord Jesus and his followers in every generation are those who sow in tears and reap rejoicing. We go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown, and we come back rejoicing, carrying our sheaves. Today, we rejoice; our mouths are filled with laughter because the LORD has done great things for us in Saint James, one of the Sons of Thunder. With Saint Paul, the least of the apostles, these first witnesses called an abundance of people to overflow with thanksgiving for the glory of God. The Lord Jesus used this humiliation for the Sons of Thunder and their mother as a teachable moment for all the apostles. Indeed, we still have much to learn about the mystery of the Kingdom coming and the King who is already here in the mystery of the Eucharist.
What is the treasure that Saint Paul held in an earthen vessel? It is the same treasure we hold, the Kingdom of God. The Divine Reign of glory is within our hearts, and it abounds in our lives. As Jesus Ben Sirach teaches the joyful heart is the essence of being human and rejoicing lengthens human life. Like Saint Paul, all the Apostles and even today’s witnesses to the Lord Jesus believe and out of that faith they speak. This apostolic testimony is made in all confidence and with boldness because the one who raised up the Lord Jesus from execution and rejection will also raise us up with Jesus to live forever in his presence. So we are afflicted in every way, but this does not silence our testimony. We are perplexed by the mystery of iniquity and the survival of concupiscence, but we do not despair. We are persecuted in every so called open minded society, but we are not abandoned by the Lord Jesus who is the truth we proclaim. We are struck down again and again humiliated in the public forum, but we are not destroyed. We walk confidently with the wounds of the Lamb on our own flesh, in this we reveal the bright glory of the Lord’s risen body. Indeed, we are constantly being given up to death for the sake of the Lord Jesus, so that by uniting our own self-sacrifice to the Perfect Sacrifice of Christ, we might grow from glory to glory. It is the very courage of Saint James and Saint Paul that we celebrate on this feast of an Apostle. In their death, in their totally selfless witness, we encounter the very life of the Risen Jesus. It is in Christ, through Christ, with Christ that we live and move and have our being. This grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people will cause a great thanksgiving to overflow throughout the church and throughout the world, all for the glory of God, now and always and ever and forever!
The mother of the Sons of Thunder does not hesitate in approaching the Lord Jesus, her two sons on either side. This wife of Zebedee showed the Lord respect and waited for him to ask, “What do you wish?” Her reply still thunders in our ears. She dares to speak out loud what has been whispered for months among the followers of the Lord Jesus. They know that he has come to bring the Kingdom of God into human history, and to fulfill his promises to King David, the man after his own heart. However, they do not have a clue what this Kingdom is all about and how it is to come about. Even the honest and innocent request of the mother of the sons of Zebedee reveals the complete ignorance of the crowd and even the inner circle of the disciples. The Lord Jesus unveils the mystery of the Kingdom by asking, “Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?” Can you share in the cup of salvation, which is a cup of suffering? Can you drink deeply of the poison of human sin and taste the sweetness of the Lord’s own blood? Saint James joins his brother to speak a response. This may be the only time we hear the voice of Saint James in the gospel accounts. “We can,” is the reply. They say “yes” to the mystery of the cross, without even knowing what it means at this time in their lives. This irony deepens as the Lord Jesus explains, “My chalice you will indeed drink, but to sit at my right and my left, this is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” The other apostles seem to be scandalized by the two sons of Zebedee, but only give the Lord Jesus a teachable moment for all who follow the Lord in every generation. Power in the Kingdom of Heaven is not like power in the kingdoms of earth. In this world, those who rule use their influence and exercise their power to lord it over others. The so-called great ones make their authority felt and everyone knows who is in charge. In the world to come, present in the hearts of all who follow the Lord Jesus, power is used only to serve, never to dominate. Indeed, the Lord Jesus, the true King of the New and Eternal Jerusalem, gives the greatest witness of the Power of God alive and live giving. He gives his life as the ransom for many, for all who need salvation in every generation. For us here and now his death gives us life, now and for ages to come unto the ages of ages.