When I see people in church praying fervently, I sometimes ask myself, “I wonder what they are praying for.”
There is nothing wrong about expressing to God our wishes when we pray. After all, Jesus himself is supposed to have said in Matthew 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
Today’s Gospel, however, comes across as a warning because we could be asking for the wrong things. Have you never heard of the saying, “Be careful what you ask for because you just might get it?” Indeed, if you get it, what makes you sure you will be happy with it?
I could sense that the Gospel writer was laughing when he wrote this story about the bold request of James and John to Jesus. “Grant that in your glory we may sit, one at your right and the other at your left.” In John’s Gospel, the crucifixion is Jesus’ moment of glory. If James and John had known this, I wonder if they would have made the request anyway, namely, to take the place of the two criminals positioned, one on his right and the other on his left.
In the first book of Kings chapter 3, we are told that God appeared to Solomon in a dream and said, “Make a wish and I will grant it to you.” It was a kind of test and Solomon passed the test. The writer says he was commended by God because he did not ask for “a long life for himself…, nor for riches, nor for revenge on his enemies.” What he asked for was wisdom instead. The wisdom “to be able to discern what is right.”
In short, when Solomon was asked to make a wish, his answer was, “Lord, I WISH THAT I WILL KNOW HOW TO WISH for the right things.” Very clever indeed!
James and John were asking for positions of power in the company of Jesus. And Mark tells us, when the other disciples heard about this they were angry with James and John. Why? Because they also wanted it for themselves. In the previous chapter, Mark 9:33-36, they had already been arguing who among them was the greatest. And Jesus answered them with a symbolic action—by putting a child in their midst.
In chapter ten, Jesus does not exactly reprimand James and John for aspiring for greatness. Instead, he explains to them what true greatness is about. That it is not about lording it over others or making one’s importance felt. That it is rather about becoming a servant and being ready to give up one’s life as a ransom for the many.
We call this kind of language PARADOXICAL. When a statement seems contradictory but is communicating a profound truth, we call it “paradoxical.” And so we invented the term “servant leadership,” which sounds contradictory but is really paradoxical. In this world, normally, servants do not lead and leaders do not serve. But then of course, Jesus is saying we are in this world but not of this world. And so he expects us his disciples to develop the wisdom to discern God’s will, which will sometimes be incongruent with our personal wishes.
I remember we used to sing that song about a child who asks her mother about what future has in store for her. In the final stanza of the song, the child has become a parent herself.
Now I have children of my own
They ask their mother,
“What will I be? Will I be pretty?
Will I be rich?
I tell them, “Wait and see.”
And the same refrain goes:
“Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be.
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will be.”
Homily of Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan for Wednesday of the 8th Week in Ordinary Time, 26 May 2021, Mk 10:32-45