“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you, but whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” (Matthew 20:25-26)
St. James was the first to die a martyr under the sword of Herod. In our Gospel passage, we see the mother of James and John presenting her sons before Jesus: “Please permit that these two sons of mine may sit one at your left and the other at your right hand.” It is a good thing that she asked not for perishable things of this world but for seats in heaven. How often do I pray for things of heaven?
For them to bring their mother to Jesus, it shows they knew Jesus was close to his own mother and that Jesus would not refuse whatever Mary asks. When Jesus asked: “Can you drink of the cup? (Suffering, persecution, hardship etc. that would follow), it was not the mother who responded but James and John: “Yes we can!” Am I willing to do all in my power to achieve heaven?
Jesus neither answered “yes” or “no” to their request, instead he said: “You will drink of the cup but as for seats at my right and left, they belong to those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” This again is another lesson: You may be ready to drink the cup like James and John but never forget that it is not by your efforts but by the will of God.
St. Paul teaches us in our first reading today, “let nothing discourage you.” Not even the fact that your prayers are not granted for “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
At the end of the day, the other disciples became indignant with James and John for coming out openly to express their ambition for heaven. It became an occasion for Jesus to teach them about servant leadership. We must never be like the pagans when we are placed in charge of others. Never boss over people; the greater you become, the humbler you should be. There is more glory in serving than being served.
James eventually drank the cup. He died a martyr for the sake of the Gospel. As to whether he got the seat in heaven, we shall find out when we eventually get there. Nevertheless, in the meantime, let us ask for his intercession and learn from his determination and zeal to achieve heaven. Let us make heaven a priority.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, grant that nothing may ever prevent me from achieving eternal life with you in paradise. Amen.
Bible Study: 2nd Corinthians 4:7-15, Psalm 126, Matthew 20:20-28).