Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the March 22, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)
“Psst! Psst! Come here! I wanna ask ya something!”
How many times have we had the experience of someone using this phrase to call us aside from business, play or work to pose a seemingly harmless question? Of course, the element of secrecy already betrays the possibility of manipulation. We often wisely respond with caution.
In the course of his preaching and teaching, Jesus himself experienced encounters of this nature. One happened out of the blue one day when he was making his way to Jerusalem with his apostles. He already had identified the 12 men who would join him for this day of glory on the day of God’s reckoning. It is clear from his teachings that he was entirely focused on laying down his life in a messianic display of God’s saving power. “The Son of Man must suffer, die and be raised for the salvation of the world,” he often instructed his followers.
The mother of apostles James and John (the Thunder Boys, their friends called them) saw an opportunity for her sons. Can’t you just hear her? “Psst! Jesus! Come here!” and then she tugs Jesus aside. “When you come into your glory, could you kinda like arrange it so that my two boys sit, one at your right, the other at your left, when you come into your glory?”
Now what mother (or father) would not want what is best for their children — that the kids make it big and indeed make a difference to others with their lives?
The mother of James and John was not an evil, wicked, manipulative nag who tried to impose her will on Jesus. If anything, she merely wanted her sons to “leave their mark on society,” as we might be prone to say nowadays. James and John seem not to object to their mother’s request. And the other 10 apostles, on hearing about the ploy, betray their own keen interest in a similar deal (camouflaged, of course, as feigned chagrin at such a move made behind their backs). But they, too, are power-hungry — and for the same reasons.
Jesus is not to be duped. He notes the desire to do good, but makes the point that the apostles (and their mother) have lost perspective on the nature of dying and rising for the sake of others. He seizes the opportunity to reinforce the central cadence of discipleship — dying to self that others might live. He does not condemn their honest desire to do good and make a difference. But he does challenge what motivates it: their thirst for power.
Power is the ability to make things happen. In itself it is morally neutral. When power is pursued or exercised in self-serving ways — especially when it tramples the dignity and rights of others — it becomes the enemy of true discipleship.
Jesus reminds us that greatness (power) in his kingdom is not measured by position or the ability to shake things up. Rather, it is measured by the ability to set aside one’s self and self-centered needs so that other may flourish and come to life. Like Jesus, the disciple must serve, not be served.
The desire to do good is deep-seated in the human heart. Like the mother in this Gospel scene, we also want to make a difference. Wanting to do good is not the challenge; setting aside our ego and self-centered manipulation is. Is it not amazing how subtle our pursuit of our own needs and glory can sneak into our lives under the guise of “doing good”? How any of our deeds truly fit into God’s saving plan is known only to him. God alone determines, in that sense, who sits at the right and at the left in the Kingdom.
Lent’s call to repentance and change of heart gives us an fresh opportunity to identify the lust for power that creeps into our lives. It takes some good measure of honesty and radical openness to the truth of the Gospel to do so. On our way to Jerusalem with Jesus during these 40 days of Lent, we must become purified of our misdirected desires as well as from our freely chosen sins. The journey requires some real, painful dying — but isn’t that the point Jesus carefully tries to impress upon any who would follow him?
(Father Savelesky is pastor of St. Patrick and St. Francis of Assisi parishes in Walla Walla. His latest book, Catholics Believe, has been released by Harcourt Religion Publishers.) (Download an order form in pdf format to
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