Our Gospel for this weekend is about ambition. We all know people that are ambitious, sometimes literally driven by ambition. And sometimes ambitious can become obnoxious. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Ambition itself is actually neutral. It can be very good, even holy; or it can be base, self-serving, and downright ugly.
We find ambition in our Gospel this morning in the Apostles James and John. They approach Christ and say to Him:
Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.
It is ambition almost to the point of embarrassment. After all that Christ had taught them, by word and example, about service and humility, about giving of oneself and not asserting oneself, about taking the lowest place. Instead, the Apostles James and John are seeking the highest places of all!
The other 10 Apostles catch wind of it, and they become indignant. They are furious. Sadly, they are not indignant because they want James and John to become better disciples; they are not indignant because they are offended for Christ, whose message has not been heard. They are indignant because they themselves are ambitious!
It is a very challenging Gospel, to say the least. These are the men Christ has chosen as the foundation for His Church, and they are so ambitious. But the response of Christ is important for us to consider.
Remarkably, He doesn’t squash the ambition of James and John. Instead, He takes their ambition and He purifies it. Remember, ambition itself is neutral. It can be used for selfish gain, but also for the greater glory of God. And so Jesus says 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?
Pope Benedict XVI, in his Wednesday audiences throughout the summer months this past year, spent time reflecting on the lives and ministry of the twelve Apostles.
At one point he focused on James and John, and he commented on this very "ambitious" scene found in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark. He says that in the response of Jesus—Can you drink the cup? Can you be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?—the Lord is trying to open the eyes of James and John.
Our Holy Father says that Jesus wants to open their eyes, first of all, to who He is, the Messiah that “did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). But, at the same time, He is also opening their eyes to what He is calling them to do: to share in that very same mission of service, and to give their lives in the very same way, even unto the shedding of blood.
Jesus asks them: “Can you do this? Can you follow me and give yourself completely, even as I do?” James and John answer, very ambitiously, “We can” (Mark 10:39). Now that would seem almost too ambitious! It appears to be way over the top, except we know, historically, that they were able to do exactly that.
St. James is the first Apostle to be martyred for his faith in Christ. The Acts of the Apostles recounts how he was killed by the sword, under the reign of King Herod Agrippa, in the year 40 A.D. (Acts 12:1-2). He drank from that same cup, was truly baptized with the same baptism as Christ.
His brother, St. John, met a different fate. He was the only Apostle not to undergo martyrdom. Instead, according to one tradition, he was exiled to the obscure island of Patmos, where he spent his days in seclusion, separated from everything and everyone dear to him. Yet by the time his life was over he had written 5 out of the 27 books of the New Testament: The Gospel of John, the Book of Revelation, and three of the Catholic Epistles (1-3 John). That’s quite an ambitious undertaking.
These are the people Christ used to begin His mission of salvation: James and John, and the other 10 Apostles. That mission, some 2000 years later, has gone far beyond what any of them could have possibly imagined.
It’s not that James and John were too ambitious when they approached Christ that day. The fact of the matter is they were not ambitious enough! Christ wanted to take their ambition and purify it, to elevate it and direct it in the mission of the Gospel. He wants to do he same with each and every one of us.
This weekend in the Church Universal we celebrate World Mission Sunday. It is a chance for us to support the efforts of all those who give their lives to the spreading of the Gospel. But we also recognize that we are all called to share in the apostolic mission. God calls us all to share in the mission of the Gospel.
We do that first and foremost through prayer. We are called to share in the mission of the Gospel by praying for those who have not yet heard the message of salvation. We pray that they will have an openness to receive that message of Christ, which has the power to transform their lives forever.
Yet in prayer we also come to find that God desires our own transformation through the very same Gospel. In his message for this World Mission Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI writes that: “Only by dwelling in God do men and women burn with a flame of Divine love that can set the world on fire.”
God wants to set the world around us on fire, but first He desires that we be set on fire with His message of mercy. God wants to light a fire in each of our hearts, to place that “flame of Divine love” within us, and then to spread that flame everywhere in the world we live in. Are we giving Him our hearts in prayer so that He can do that?
Secondly, we participate in the saving mission of the Church through our financial support. Our collection for World Mission Sunday will go to support over 1100 dioceses throughout the world, helping thousands of people to be touched by the love of Christ.
And finally, we are called to share in the missionary work of the Church simply by the way we live our lives. We are living in strange times; the mission fields are no longer just in foreign lands. Each of us can think of people—perhaps living under our own roof, and certainly in the places we work—who have not heard or received the Gospel message of salvation through faith in Christ.
We are called to be missionaries to them, helping them to know and experience the love of God. Again, in his message for World Mission Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI says that we are called to do that in two ways:
By loving God first, to the very point of giving our lives for Him (like James and John learn in our Gospel).
But also by stooping down and reaching out to the needs of all; again, like James and John, serving those most in need by following the example of Christ
This World Mission Sunday we ask God to truly make us ambitious; certainly ambitious in our businesses, and in family life or our personal lives. Guided by the Holy Spirit, there is nothing wrong with that. But above all we ask Him to make us ambitious in the mission of the Gospel; and in everything we do, might we do it first and foremost for the love of God, and for His glory.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
(29th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year B;This homily was given 21-22 October, 2006, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; read Mark 10:35-45)