29th Sunday Year B S Martin’s 2021
“Let us be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help.” Hebrews 4:16
When I read today’s readings the first thought that came to my mind was, did this phrase enter Our Lord’s mind? “Will they ever learn?”
For the last five Sundays it appears that the apostles were always getting it wrong. It all began after the three of them had witnessed the Transfiguration and Jesus had from that moment been trying to prepare them for what lay ahead. First having acknowledged Jesus as ‘the Christ’ Peter received quite a ticking off for questioning that which Jesus knew to be inevitable. Next, we thought of the incident of their speculation on the road as to which “of them was to be the greatest” – mind diversion it has been suggested. Next came their attempt to be an excusive group, not only once but twice, first objecting to the man casting out devils and then keeping the children away. Then, last week, we heard Peter’s plaintive question, “What about us?” that was repudiated by Jesus with the assurance that anyone who committed to follow him would be saved.
Today we meet James and John who approach Jesus to say they wanted to share his glory –
I can’t but help think Jesus might well have thought - “Will they ever learn?”
As I have said some have made an excuse for the apostles – that unable to accept Jesus’ confidence in his role as the suffering servant as prophesied by Isaiah, that was our first reading, they concentrate on what they had seen and been promised at The Transfiguration, that he would, however much they didn’t understand it either, also, rise again!
While it is true to say that Peter did receive ‘quite a ticking off’ – “get behind me Satan” - we do well to note that Mark told us this was after Jesus had taken him aside: it was not a public reprimand Peter had told him. May be by the time of James and John’s request Jesus had recovered from the shock of that incident as Jesus in Mark’s account of the latter incident the Living Word describes:-
“had been striding ahead of the disciples on the road to Jerusalem, suggesting a confidence and enthusiasm for the task ahead.”
Indeed we should note his (Jesus’) more gentle approach to these two apostles who approach him, first reminding them again of his role and then gently telling them that however confident he felt in his role – he was not in sole control there were still matters that were not his to decide on.
That gentle approach continues when the other ten had caught on to what had happened. It is in the words of this discourse Jesus sets out that which is to be their future modus-operandi and therefore that of the Church – which he was entrusting them to build – that of service and humble obedience to God’s will as he declares: -
“The Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”
Having come this far in my thoughts I recalled words of Saint John XXIII – the smiling Pope as he was fondly known – words he spoke at the opening of the second Vatican Council as we read them in the Office of Readings for his feast day last Monday: -
“The Church has always opposed …….. errors, and often condemned them with the utmost severity. Today, however, Christ’s Bride prefers the balm of mercy to the arm of severity. She believes that present needs are best served by explaining more fully the purport of her doctrines, rather than by publishing condemnations.”
The phrase, “Will they ever learn?” suggests a latent longing. In this morning’s Gospel, as we have noted it by Jesus’ dealings with first James and John and then with other ten. The apostles went on to be inspired by the Holy Spirit and to spread the Good News having taken Jesus’ message to heart. They are examples to us, of ambition and pride, by the grace of God giving way to self-giving and humility.
Of course, we will never know if Jesus asked the question of the apostles, but I think if we are honest, we would all admit that we have been / are… deserving of him asking it of us. We have, however heard how Jesus summed up this series of lapses. In the words of the author of the Letter to the Hebrews: -
“Let us be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help.”
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