“When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’” (Luke 9:54).
Maybe they enjoyed a little excess testosterone. They exhibit, in this passage and in today’s reading, some prototypical alpha male behaviour, which is associated, according to modern research with high levels of the male hormone.
Jesus is okay with it. He doesn’t condemn them for asking what they want from him—to be seated at Jesus’ right and left hand in glory. Guess they planned to arm wrestle later to see who got to be at the privileged right hand.
But this isn’t like getting appointed to the Senate in Canadian parliament. Jesus isn’t the PM and he apparently can’t make appointments. Only those “for whom it has been prepared” get to share in the glory.
By which is meant, only those who are ready to “drink the cup” that Jesus has drunk, and be baptized with the baptism with which Jesus will be baptized. Which is to say, those who are prepared to undergo the same kind of ordeal.
We aren’t told exactly what that means, but we can be pretty certain that it includes learning to love a world that is so twisted by violence, hatred, and pettiness that it has come to believe that this is the real world. It includes “giving your life as a ransom” for many. This sounds like the suffering servant from the Isaiah reading in today’s lectionary. And of course, this is a non-starter with most liberal Christians. But I suspect that there is something to it.
Even at the level of martyrdom, it’s possible that Jesus had to step up and take Rome’s violence, acting as a scapegoat so that the Empire would lay off his friends. But as I’ve written elsewhere I think there is also something to Jesus acting shaman-like to draw from the world all of the world’s darkness and metabolize it so that the darkness can be brought to the light, seen for what it is, and ultimately redeemed.
The other disciples are royally pissed with the sons of Thunder, but the brothers are simply revealing the nature of all human beings, including the other disciples’, when we live separated from the Divine Heart and Mind. The ego defines success as being on the receiving end of other people’s service. The capitalist system is basically set up as a societal projection of this impulse and orientation.
The alternative orientation is being in service to something bigger than oneself, one’s security, etc. But being in service doesn’t mean neglecting self or living joylessly. I was listening to Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic) on CBC. She made an interesting point that “all” we need to do is to do what our soul is here to do, and that is love, and love always transcends self-focus. In a sense it is the disappearance or the dissolving of self as soul simply does what it came to do. It might look like “service to others”. But it’s actually simply the realization of soul in a world that is looking for the same thing.
Some humans get to the point in this lifetime when they realize that nothing else actually matters. These are the ones, in Jesus’ words, “for whom it has been prepared”. Who knows why? Maybe it’s taken these folks many reincarnations. Or maybe their own suffering in this lifetime has broken them open, when for others it has shut them down.
But it’s not actually an achievement. It’s a destiny that has unfolded. The time is right. You are prepared to suffer for love, live for love, die for love. Because love is the ground of reality and love is where it’s all heading. This is our glory, and the glory of the human condition. This we do, not for ourselves, but as the crowning achievement of a cosmic evolutionary process on behalf of the emerging Human. This is the glory that awaits all of us.
10:35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
10:36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”
10:37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
10:38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
10:39 They replied, “We are able.” Then 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;
10:40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
10:41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John.
10:42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.
10:43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,
10:44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.
10:45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”