Hi everyone, and welcome to Weekly Homilies with Father Mark Suslenko, Pastor of SS. Isidore and Maria Parish in Glastonbury, Connecticut. We are part of the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford. I'm Carol Vassar, parish director of communications, and you're listening to Season 4, Episode 34 for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time: October 17, 2021. Our Gospel reading is from Mark, Chapter 10, verses 35-45
James and 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."
The Gospel of the Lord
“”What do you wish me to do for. you?" by Father Mark S. Suslenko, Pastor, SS. Isidore and Maria Parish, Glastonbury, Connecticut
When we begin to consider our life of faith, as we get more engaged in our spiritual life, there is something that attracts us, piques our interest about Jesus Christ that causes us to reach out to him, to God. And whenever we reach out to God in prayer, we can imagine God asking us a very important question. And the question is this: what is it you wish me to do for you? What is it you wish me to do for you?
When we engage in a relationship with someone, especially with God, there are expectations that are placed on that relationship. As you gathered here in this church today, we come with the brokenness of our lives, with all that's happening within us and around us. As you prepared yourself for Mass today, God looked at you and said, "What do you wish me to do for you? What are you hoping today that God does for you?"
It's important question to answer because the answer we provide says a lot about that relationship we have with God.
You know, James and John traveled with Jesus for quite some time. And yet when he asked them that question, what do you wish me to do for you? They had a very clear image of what they wanted. They wanted a privilege in Jesus' kingdom, in God's kingdom. Now we know the story of James and John, they were Zebedee's sons. Originally, they were in a boat with their father and Jesus was on the shore and he said, follow me. And so the abandoned the father and the boat, and went and followed Jesus. What were they looking for? What did they want to know? Obviously they didn't know much about Jesus at the time, but they listened anyway, and went and followed. They obviously were seeking something.
You know, knowledge is a very powerful thing. Knowledge that is proper can set the course of our lives on a straight path. Knowledge that is incorrect can be self-destructive for us. So our knowing, our pursuing, our long game is important to understand and to make whole.
Now, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, he was the second founder of the Cistercian monks. He lived about a thousand years ago. And you might be saying, oh, what is somebody who lived a thousand years ago have to say about us who's living in this time? Well, he had a lot of wisdom to share about humanity. And while the particulars of human life certainly have changed dramatically over those 1000 years, the stuff of being a human being has not, we're still put together in the same way, the aspirations of a human heart are the same today as they were a thousand years ago. We still have desire. We still have longing. We still want to connect. We still want to know. And St. Bernard gives us this wonderful reflection on knowledge that's important to our reflection today. And he said, there's different kinds of knowing. You know, on the base level of knowing, we know simply to gain knowledge; to gain knowledge. And this is motivated by curiosity.
So you might go over to somebody's house and you say, well, what's that doing on the corner of the table? Well, why is that over there? Or why are you doing that? Or three weeks ago you did X, Y, and Z. Why did you do that? And so curiosity peaks our knowledge, but it's usually very minimal. Very similar to what we saw in the story of Zachias, who wanted to see Jesus. And so he went up the tree and he sat to get a look because he wanted to see who this Jesus was who was traveling by. So he pursued it out of curiosity.
Another way that we gain knowledge is to present ourselves more favorably to people, to build up our esteem. And so we learn things so that we can be an expert on something, which gives us the upper hand sometimes in our dealings with someone else. So if I know more about this topic than you, then that elevates my status, and it makes me feel more important and knowledgeable. And St. Bernard says, when we seek knowledge simply to advance ourselves, it's motivated on vanity; vanity.
Another kind of knowledge is in pursuit of profit; profit. So I may pursue something because it would be more financially advantageous for me to do so. It may bring me greater money or recognition or status. And knowledge pursued on this level is really in service of my own self-gain. And so I educate myself. I seek positions of advancement. I want to make sure I'm at the top of my game. And my image of success is linked to my ability to function well and to receive self-benefit. Well, it seems to me that's where James and John were in today's Gospel. Even though they had traveled with Jesus, they were looking to protect themselves, to advance themselves, to gain something themselves in the kingdom of God. They want to just sit in a particular place and be revered. They said, we left our father. We left our life. We've been faithful to you. Surely, we deserve something back in return. And so in our spiritual lives, we can find ourselves relating to God in much the same way. Sometimes we're just curious and we might see something happening in someone's life that we know is faithful and it piques our interest. Or we may read something in scripture that engages us and catches our eye, but we easily keep it at a distance and don't get too involved, just like Zachias did from the tree, just kind of watching Jesus go by. Or sometimes we pursue our spiritual lives to make us look better, to stand out more within our community, to be seen as the holy one, the religious one, the one who understands their faith better than the person sitting next to me, the one who "gets it" versus the one who doesn't. And sometimes our spiritual lives become more of a reflection of our own needs than anything else as we seek that sense of status.
And maybe sometimes we're concerned about what's waiting for us in heaven. Our spirituality is all geared toward making sure we have that place secured, of making sure God knows how faithful I am and how devoted I am so that when I leave this life, He's going to take care of me, and reward me for all those labors I put in during my time here. We fail to realize that all of those motivations are inferior to the higher ones, to the real, the more real ones.
St. Bernard goes on to say, there's another level of knowledge. And it's a knowledge that seeks edification or a better word for that is enlightenment. And he says, this type of a pursuit of knowledge is based on prudence or "right judgment," a virtue, a good thing. And this is the type of knowledge that we seek that helps us understand ourselves and our role in the universe better; that seeks to understand God more deeply; that wants to uncover and unpeel the intricacies of my relationships with one another, with my brothers and sisters, who wants to know the bigger purpose and meaning of life; who wants to immerse themselves in the greater truth of who they are, and, thus, enlighten themselves to the workings of God and the gospel. And this is a very worthy pursuit, and one that is certainly healthier than the first three when it comes to our relationship with God, but it's not the end yet. There's still one more. And it's the one that is most difficult.
St. Bernard says the last type of knowledge is the one that is pursued in service of others; in service of others. It's what I have to do and what I have to know in order to be more useful to God, to my brothers and sisters, to the world in which I live. It's a knowledge that is born of love, and is the fruit of love. And so if I truly love God, because God is God and I am who I am, and that relationship is devoid of any other motivations, other than the celebration of the blessed relationship that is shared between God and myself. It would stand to reason, then, if God is the pinnacle of my life, the end-all of my life, then what would be most important to me would be to be his servant, to be his mouthpiece, to be his hands in a world that is so broken and in need to be in service of others. And see, this is what Jesus was trying to get the disciples to see. It requires great humility to be a servant. In a very real sense, we have to step out of the way and put our own agendas and our own needs aside to allow God to work in and through us. And whether that means a life that is easier to bear or one that becomes more difficult because of the challenges of living the Gospel, then so be it.
And that's why Jesus looked at them you have no idea what you're asking. He said to his disciples you have no idea what it is to love me. Because when it's all said and done and we begin to prepare to leave this life and go to the next, God is going to ask us once again, what is it you wish me to do for you?
Well, securing our place in heaven puts us right where James and John are in today's Gospel. But to be focused on our love for God continues to make us a servant of God, so that when we do leave this life and go to the next, the request we make is according to your will. The servant who completely trusts in the master is simply obedient to what the master says. And so it doesn't matter what our self-interest is, what we want for ourselves. The only thing that matters is that we're a servant of our creator according to our creators will .
Father Mark Suslenko is the pastor of SS. Isidore and Maria Parish in Glastonbury, Connecticut. Learn more about our parish community www.isidoreandmaria.org. And follow us on social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Our music comes free of charge from Blue Dot Sessions in Fall River, Massachusetts. I’m Carol Vassar. Thanks for joining us.