The Gospel Today
Feast of Saint James, Apostle
The mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons
and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something.
He said to her,
“What do you wish?”
She answered him,
“Command that these two sons of mine sit,
one at your right and the other at your left, in your Kingdom.”
Jesus said in reply,
“You do not know what you are asking.
Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?”
They said to him, “We can.”
“My chalice you will indeed drink,
but to sit at my right and at my left, this is not mine to give
but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
When the ten heard this,
they became indignant at the two brothers.
But Jesus summoned them and said,
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them,
and the great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you.
Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.
Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served
but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Reflection (Sem.Ernesto Sican):
The first thing that came into my mind after reading the gospel was the difference between asking and demanding. When we ask, we simply make a request or express our desire and wait for the person to grant it. It is out of the person’s freedom to respond generously to our request. When we demand on the other hand, there is an element of force effected to the person to comply or act upon the request. To demand is to make an enforceable request. This leaves the person little space or freedom to act on his own volition.
The mother of James and John came to Jesus to ask for a favor. In the course of the conversation, the mother unconsciously shifted from asking a favor to demanding something. The distinction between asking and demanding became vague.
In our prayers, we sometimes act like the mother of James and John. We are not aware of the real motivation behind our prayers. We unconsciously treat God as a slot machine or Santa Clause perhaps, ready to answer and grant our request. Someone shared to me a story of how we can obtain from God the favor we ask. Every now and then, when he prays to the Holy Family, he would remove the baby Jesus from the image of the Holy Family and put it somewhere else. Then he would pray saying “Mama Mary, please grant my request, otherwise you will not see Jesus anymore or Jesus will not be on your side again.” What is wrong with his prayer? The person is bribing God. He is trying to negotiate or make a bargain. It is an infantile form of prayer. Children when asking something from their parents would sometimes bribe them by promising something, like to behave well, in exchange for the favor they will receive. Worse they will show their tantrum or annoy the parents constantly so that they will give in to their request. That is how children behave to get what they want.
Sometimes we are like children in our prayers and in our relationship to God. We have the tendency to bribe God by being good or turning away from our sinful ways to obtain what we ask for. As a mature person, we need also to mature in our prayers. That I think is the challenge for us now. We need to mature not only in our prayers but more so in our faith and relationship to God. We need to grow in our spiritual life.