Feast of Saint James, apostle
(II Corinthians 4:7-15; Matthew 20:20-28)
A sonnet by an anonymous Spanish mystic tells of perfect Christian love. It reads that the author is not moved to love God by the hope of heaven or to fear God by the fire of hell. No, what moves this devotee is God’s love for him demonstrated on the cross. In today’s gospel Jesus helps James and John rise to that perfect love.
The situation appears pathetic. The mother of James and John comes to bid for her sons’ high places in Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus, however, does not allow the woman to embarrass his apostles. He calls them to solidarity with him in the suffering which he is bound to endure. The two brothers willingly assent. Then Jesus tells them that he cannot reward them with the seats of highest honor. Rather he says that the secular order will be reversed in his kingdom. There those who serve will be considered great, not those who sit in high places.
Catholics are sometimes criticized for loving God out of a supposedly selfish concern to achieve eternal life. This desire is not selfish but natural. After all, we are made to love ourselves as well as others. But life teaches us, as Jesus instructs James and John, that there is something better than a high place in heaven. That, of course, is standing with Jesus in suffering as well as in rejoicing. We come to understand that the happiness of heaven consists precisely in Jesus’ companionship.