John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him,
"Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you."
He replied, "What do you wish me to do for you?"
They answered him, "Grant that in your glory
we may sit one at your right and the other at your left."
Jesus said 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?"
They said to him, "We can." Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink, you will drink,
and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;
but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give
but is for those for whom it has been prepared."
When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John.
Jesus summoned them and said to them,
"You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles
lord it over them,
and their great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you.
Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.
For the Son of Man did not come to be served
but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."
You wouldn`t say by the look of me but I`m actually on holiday. The thought was I’d use up the last remaining days off that remained from 2020. Then Father Jacques called and said “would I inconvenience you terribly if you could take the service this Saturday and I said, “no, no problem, I`ll combine it with a bit of a day trip and maybe go to a museum or such.”
After I hung up I realized, I also had to write a sermon. Which is actual work. Which I had not planned for.
Well sometimes we have to … qualify our plans a bit.
That being said it’s a beautiful, deep reading we get today. One of the many where the disciples function as a kind of foil. Examples as to what not to do in order to find the deeper meaning of the words and example of Christ.
And the subject of today is what I would call spiritual authority, or spiritual power – so to say. It’s not a subject that’s being touched on often. But it should. It should.
Every religious tradition is in some way involved in the project of bringing heaven and earth, the higher and the lower in concord, in contact with each other. And each religious tradition has another vision as to how to bring this about.
Many pagan traditions, or forms of shamanism seek to reach out to the spiritual powers imbuing nature, in order to appease them or somehow bind them. So bringing about an armistice between the spiritual and the secular.
In Islam the phrase “as above so below” is taken fairly literally. There is a vey clear Will of God, which translates itself into a system of political authority and a detailed legal framework. If only people would subject themselves to that there would be peace and justice, and the chasm between heaven and earth would be much more manageable. Well it’s not badly thought out, that. It makes a lot of sense!
But in Christianity we live and learn through the example of Jesus Christ who in Himself unites God and man. He breaks down this barrier, not through force on His part but through the way of renunciation. In Jesus’ case through suffering, and death. This is how he manifests his power over life and death at Easter.
This may be a bit tricky to wrap our head around. Because it is so paradoxical. But human existence ís paradoxical and seldom straightforward.
Think about some examples and it begins to look more recognizable:
The more you obsessively seek control over others and grasp for absolute security, absolute safety the more insecure your life becomes, the more crazy risks, unknown variables seem to pop up from everywhere.
People who never want to commit themselves, in the name of their personal freedom, become slaves to their most inconsequential desires, become unfree.
The more you try and chase after happiness, and look for more and more of it, the less happiness you find. On the contrary, people who make that their life project usually turn out a bit sad.
If you try and grasp at things, try and force them into a direction where they are not meant to go, the more things turn into their opposite and it hits you in the face.
So too with spiritual power, spiritual strength, it is much the same thing. It can be only found through the way of renunciation. You can`t get it as John and James are trying by means of, basically, a charter. “I Jesus, invest you with this spiritual authority over such and such and so many people”, and that they can then strut about with bejeweled mitres on their heads and saying “what ho, better get on your knees look at this golden seal on this Grand Charter: it says “EMPEROR JESUS” right there, look that’s his coat of arms right there”
Well Halloween is coming up in a few weeks, and there’s a horror story for you right there.
How terrible that would be, as if you could leech off divine power, smuggle it as contraband to this earthly realm and then lord it about in God’s name – with the best of intentions of course.
No, with Jesus, if you want to share in his life and his power, you need to “to drink from the chalice He drinks from”, and you need to do it willingly, you need to do it out of love, you can`t do it instrumentally, as a means to an end.
You see this sometimes with powerful people, politicians, you can find examples in history. At least one who only ate vegetables, abstained from alcohol and tobacco, imposed basically occult spiritual disciplines on himself. Not in order to find life though, but in order to bewitch his people, wield power over them.
Through instrumental use of spiritual discipline, it is – in principle – possible to develop a terrible charisma, a dark power and a horrible influence over people
We would not call these people black magicians, but in reality – that is how they function, that is what they do.
But life ís paradoxical. People who desire absolute power and sacrifice everything to get it will find power, a great deal of it – and all that power will work for their destruction. And sadly that of a lot of innocent bystanders as well.
The true way of renunciation is the opposite of this.
It is a way of love, it is a way of kindness, it is a true charisma that attracts people because they recognize there are those who have love and life to share. It does not bring fear, but inspires. Brings life. That path begins by not seeking yourself, not thinking you always have to “look out for number one”. And once you start out on this path it will carry you far, you would be surprised as to what you will be capable of. You can`t begin to imagine it. You will find great strength, and once you find it you won`t even think about manipulating it for your own ends, because that strength exists for the sake of others.
We need not be scared or intimidated of that path, because as you find strength through renunciation you will also find peace in the knowledge that through Christ we do our part in reconciling our life on Earth with the eternal presence of God who gives life to us all.