on the passage from the Gospel we just heard.
Jesus and the Apostles are on their way to Jerusalem.
As they are going, Jesus tells them
he’s going to be betrayed and killed.
Remember? When Jesus said it the first time,
Peter said, “Oh no, not you, Lord!”
And Jesus rebuked him for thinking as human beings do,
not as God does.
This conversation is now the third time
Jesus tells them about his coming death.
What’s more, this conversation comes just before
they arrive in Jerusalem. Think about that.
Do you see why this was so important?
We can see what was on James and John’s minds.
They were thinking about glory and power.
If Jesus hadn’t warned them, set them straight,
just picture how they would have reacted
when – a few days later – they saw everyone
throwing palm branches down before Jesus,
and crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
So one thing we might consider is that in his response,
Jesus isn’t just knocking them down a peg;
he may well have saved their souls.
Who knows but they might have lost faith as Judas Iscariot did,
and as Peter almost did.
So that gives us some context. So does the first reading,
which is from Isaiah, and is one of several passages
that foreshadow a “suffering servant,” who –
in light of what happened to Jesus –
we realize were prophecies of the Messiah.
We remember that Jesus’ suffering
wasn’t just something that happened to him.
As Fulton Sheen said, Jesus is the one man who was born to die.
God planned for this – for our sake.
Now, it’s important to be clear on what that means.
A lot of our fellow Christians, and our fellow Catholics,
get this mixed up.
Sometimes you’ll hear people talk about Jesus death on the Cross
as if God the Father demanded it.
The theory goes like this: someone “had to die,”
so Jesus took the penalty in our place.
Here’s what’s wrong with that approach.
It suggests God the Father is bloodthirsty,
demanding someone’s death.
So let’s be very clear.
God did not have to save us in this fashion.
You’ll see in Scripture where Jesus himself
refers to the “necessity” of the Cross,
but it’s a “necessity” God imposed on himself.
No one forced this plan on God. God chose this path.
The only sense in which it is “necessary” is that God understood
it was the best path for our sake.
As we say in our Creed each Sunday:
“For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven…”
This is all background to this conversation with James and John,
and it’s important; because every single one of us
faces the same temptation as they did.
Let’s not misunderstand what they were angling for.
This wasn’t about them living the high life.
Notice what they asked for:
“Grant that in your glory we may sit
one at your right and the other at your left.”
They were asking to be closely associated with Jesus’ kingdom.
They were on fire for God’s work.
Remember, these were the same two who wanted to call down fire
on some Samaritans who treated Jesus with disrespect.
Can any of us see this in ourselves?
We get fired up with zeal for God’s name, for the truth.
We see things in our culture that treat Jesus with disrespect,
and we have that same righteous anger the Apostles did.
We want to see Jesus’ kingdom come; we are anxious to see it happen.
That’s what these Apostles wanted.
And they weren’t wrong!
Their only mistake was in not realizing how Christ’s glory would come.
It wouldn’t come on Palm Sunday when everyone was crying “Hosanna.”
It would come on Good Friday when they called out, “crucify him!”
This is what we call the “mystery of the Cross” –
and we can’t get past it.
Jesus put the Cross at the center of his life, his message…
In fact, Jesus put the Cross at the center of human history.
(At the Masses today, I inserted a paragraph here about two reasons for the Cross -- as opposed to any other plan: first because our pride and arrogance need to be crucified; and second, and more importantly, because by doing it this way, God is in solidarity with human suffering, not aloof from it.)
It’s the center of everything. It changes everything…
Including what “success” is.
This time of year, the ushers count the attendance at Mass,
and we report that to Cincinnati. All the parishes do that.
And you know what I’ve been doing? I’ve been looking at those numbers.
Would they go up? Or down?
And if they go down, what does that mean?
If the collection goes up or down, what does that mean?
I’m thinking about “success” in the same way James and John were.
We remind ourselves that if the Son of God
ended up being crucified by his hearers,
you and I should not expect any different for ourselves.
Our Church is being crucified in many ways right now.
In the terrible persecution
happening in the Middle East and Africa and elsewhere.
In the rejection by our culture of the words of Jesus,
about human life and dignity,
about the beauty of how God designed humanity –
because we would rather throw away his design
and replace it with our own.
And, as we know, there are tensions within the Church as well,
because some say we should conform the Gospel
to the values of our world -- because it’s just too much to ask
the world to conform to the Gospel.
These are all crucifixions; and it is painful to witness this.
And we are tempted to think, all is lost.
If you are ever tempted to give up,
put yourselves in the place of Jesus’ followers,
standing in the streets of Jerusalem on Good Friday:
watching the Savior being beaten and led to Calvary.
Notice that Jesus did not refuse James and John’s request.
All he said was, they wouldn’t be at his “right and left.”
But they would share his chalice and his baptism –
meaning his suffering and his redemption.
Jesus told them, and he tells us: The Plan will work.
God’s kingdom will come.
And we can take solace in knowing,
that even if we are a little dim and confused –
the Apostles sure were! – nevertheless, with God’s help,
you and I will be part of helping the Kingdom come.
But it won’t be the way we think.
We are going to have to trust that wherever he leads us,
whatever happens, it’s the right place.