As I was watching the Red Sox game the other night, I texted a friend to ask him a question, knowing where I wanted this homily to go: “If you had the chance to ask God one question, what would it be?” The friend I asked, he’s a pretty knowledgeable person in many different areas of life. He thought about it for a few minutes, then texted back the question, “Is there more than one universe?” I texted him back, “I like that one. That’s a great question.”
The more I thought about his question, the more I understood how much it fit what is of interest, and what is curious and important to him. He has a strong interest in the workings and doings of what is out there, up there in the sky, from earth all the way to the ends of the universe, wherever that happens to be. The question fit his life, his personality, one area of interest.
So, I started thinking to myself, “What would you ask God for your one question, Mr. Priest?” And my question would be, “Am I going to heaven?” I want a sneak preview to that answer, to make any adjustments right now. And, there are times and days where I would downright fear the answer from God, which is fine I guess, for the Scripture tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
So, what would your one question be? How would you frame it? How would it fit your personality, and what’s important to you? Would it challenge the ways of God, which are sometimes very difficult to understand, especially when it comes to carrying crosses? And there are no follow-ups, like reporters with questions directed at a politician. One question only. What is most concerning or curious to us?
And there’s the Gospel for this week. James and John ask Jesus one question that takes the form of a statement by the time they speak it, but it’s one question; “Can we sit at your right and left in your glory as your telling this person’s soul to go here, and that person’s soul to go there. Can we watch you in action, Lord, as you judge the nations and billions of individual souls? Maybe, just maybe, we can take a load off your shoulders and assist you, Lord, like the 72 leaders assisted Moses because he was overworked. Maybe we can tell people where to go on your behalf.”
Well, at the end of the day, and the end of the conversation, they asked Jesus the wrong question. Not necessarily a dumb question, or that it was totally ridiculous. But the wrong question for sure, for their request to Jesus told two things about them; first, what was most important to them in their lives, which was power and position (standing at his right and left); and second, how it was the exact opposite of where Christ wants his disciples to be in this world of power and violence. They wasted their question. No more questions for them. Just be his disciple, and learn what that means.
Last week, I talked about discipleship for Christ alongside the word dependency on him at the same time. Discipleship and dependency. To be his follower, his disciple, comes with the relevant understanding that it’s not possible to succeed at the serious issues of life without dependence on him. Unless his grace is flowing through our veins, and his Spirit is guiding our thoughts and actions, then the end of the road is met ultimately with failure.
I think about this continuing opioid crisis in our state and nation, and how our political leaders wish to address this crisis, which is right and good. As a priest, however, I have to ask the one question, “How much of their approach to addressing this most serious issue in our communities is grounded in partnership with the living God?” Is that thought or action even there? While hearts are certainly in the right place, unlike James and John in their quest for power, is there any humble call for assistance from the Divine? From our Creator who loves us? If not, expect little success, because we’re just not that good on our own.
Our Lord takes the one question of James and John and teaches all his disciples where we are to stand before him. And where we are to stand before him, and best stand in for him is not to seek his right and left later on, but to be servants of the Most High right now.
To be a servant for Christ in serving others is to be humble. If there is a lack of humble pie in our spiritual diet, then we should pray for that great virtue of Jesus Christ. So, our one question is to reflect his life, and not our own selfish desires. “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant.” Why? Because “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve,” by “giving his life as a ransom for many,” meaning all.
So, if we had the opportunity to ask Jesus face to face one question, would we blow it like James and John, asking a question that fit their power-hungry personalities? Or, would it touch on the many facets of our love for him?
James and John wanted to be on his right and left in his glory not because of their love for Christ, but because they wanted to lord it over others, which they would have misused, as so much power is. Our closeness to our Savior is grounded in being a servant, a humble servant, for the good of bringing his kingdom to those around us.