“Desire to Possess”
(Translated from “Diario de locura”)
Today I want to share with you some thoughts based on a well-known (but not very well understood) passage from the Bible.
They are going to be a little “daring.” Yes. But I hope for a little understanding and patience on your part. So don’t “burn me at the stake as a heretic” until I’ve finished.
The desire for power, the desire to be located in a state superior to others isn’t new in human history. But even less so in the history of the Church.
The tremendous desire to possess, to aspire to having more than one’s neighbor, to occupy positions of preference, to be someone important, admired by the rest of us mortals, has been the dream and ambition of the human being on this Earth where we live and in all the time that has ever been lived.
I don’t want, Dear Diary, for you to see me as a person charged with a tragic pessimism. You know that I’m not. But neither do I want optimism to cover up that which is evident.
Being a Christian leads to a life of very positive hope. But that does not mean that we have to close our eyes to reality. Because finding the difference between what will be and what is is fundamental to the Christian life.
The lust for power is in the world since its beginning. But in the Church, ironically, it appeared even before its “beginning.” Do you want an example?
My Lord Jesus Christ was still telling his disciples how He would be sentenced to death by the leaders of Jerusalem when the following happened:
Matthew 20:17-21: 17Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, 18″We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” 20Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. 21″What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
For those of us who are familiar with the reading of this text, it doesn’t seem so amazing. But if we read it as if for the first time, we must ask ourselves:
Were they really listening to what Jesus said?
What mattered to them more: their future, or the imminent end of their master?
What captured their attention more: that He was going to be flogged and crucified by the “legal representatives of God” in this world… or that He would bring in a new realm with new offices and ministries available?
And… wait a minute!… Who does this lady think she is, to speak that way and ask something like that of Jesus?
You know what…? I’m going to count to a hundred and continue tomorrow.
With yesterday’s reading, we might think that it was the mother of James and John who was the architect of this plan to gain for her sons a special place in the new Kingdom.
But looking at parallel passages in other Gospels we see that this isn’t so. Look!
Mark 9:33-34-37: 33They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
Mark 10:35-37: 35Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” 36″What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. 37They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
Luke 9:46: An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest.
Luke 22:24: Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.
Curious isn’t it? Well the human heart is like that. Absorbed by the deceptive desire for power, it remains blind and deaf to the words of Jesus, and not only doesn’t understand the meaning of his teaching, but by its attitude takes a totally opposite direction.
It wouldn’t be at all surprising if the mother of John and James ( Santiago ) approached Jesus with that request more at their instigation than on her own initiative. If this was the case, they might have thought that Jesus would yield more readily to the request of that mother. In fact… they might have thought that there was already a precedent. At the wedding at Cana . Remember?
John 2:3-5: 3When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” 4″Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied, “My time has not yet come.”
5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
It doesn’t appear original to me that someone uses different techniques to achieve a single goal. When my children don’t get what they want from their mother… they come running to see if they get it from me. Doesn’t that sound familiar to you?
When the other disciples became aware of that business I told you about yesterday, they got angry with John and James. And it really was not a lesser question!
(And “As they should have done!”)
Matthew 20:24: “Hearing this, the ten became indignant at the two brothers”
What a pair of opportunists! They waited for a moment of distraction to ask for for a position of privilege. And even used their mother to do so. I don’t know what would have happened if that had occured to me. But I assure you, Dear Diary, that the two would have gone into the river clothes and all. They have no shame! Today we would say that it was acting by cloak and dagger.
This kind of thing always produces negative consequences. An attitude of this kind always produces a rejection on the one hand and an aggressive defence attitude on the other.
When one person feels equal to another it’s neither easy nor fair that the other considers himself on a higher level, showing a power and privilege that haven’t been given to him.
It isn’t the first time anyone has attempted to occupy a leadership position or something like this in this way. And the result has always been separation rather than unity. Those of us who’ve been years in the community have had ample experience of this kind of unpleasant and unedifying attitude within the church.
But my Lord Jesus, even in his human condition, was well above that situation. And after making them understand how absurd and unreasonable their request was, He led them to a new vision of the Kingdom of Heaven . Or rather, he made them see with new eyes. The eyes of faith. That new vision that only the Holy Spirit may lead them to. A new vision that wouldn’t be at all easy to understand in a world where power and prominence over others was a sign of divine blessing and social success.
Our Lord changed a rather embarrassing situation into a lesson that they will never forget. He turned completely around the pretensions of his disciples. Because both the attitude of the two disciples and that of the other ten indicated that they wanted to have a position of importance. A position that our Lord will explain to them how to get. And now, since they apparently haven’t been very attentive to his teachings, He got their attention by offering them a position of grandeur and power in the new kingdom.
“Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28).
Jesus takes the image of the rulers of the Gentile nations, that is to say, those who are not Jews, as an example of tyranny and oppression.
Strange, isn’t it?
Our Lord Jesus [who] was shortly before saying that He would be delivered to death by the principals and rulers of His own nation. He was to be executed by the two main forces of His nation, the political and the religious, took as an example the Gentile nations.
I’m sure that the disciples didn’t take long to perceive that there was no need to look that far from home to recognise the desire for power. They had it in their own land. How many manipulations and corrupt acts hadn’t been used by political and religious leaders of their nation to occupy positions of power. And if they already had them, to hold on to them. And shortly after that, it is almost certain that they [the disciples] also would have reflected, that they wouldn’t need to go outside to realize that they had this desire within themselves. And in such a small community, they already had the same embryo of a lust for power that their rulers did.
I’ll tell you something, Dear Diary, I have spent many years reading the New Testament and studying it through commentaries and classes. But even now, the softness and love with which Jesus treats and teaches his disciples never ceases to amaze me. And these things are discovered when you approach the Scriptures with an open mind, free of prejudice, dogma and fear. Until now I hadn’t realized that Jesus took as an example the Gentile nations rather than His own people. It’s as if He were saying: “We are not the only ones who suffer from this situation. The consequences of being outside God’s will aren’t paid only by the Jews.
Matthew 20:25-28 : “Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Our Lord. The Son of Man. He by whom all things were created. He who is the visible image of the invisible God… didn’t come to be served… He came to serve.
I’ll tell you one thing, it’s possible that we are so used to hearing such statements about Jesus, which seem normal.
But they aren’t!
No way. There has never been anybody else, now or in past times, who has dismissed his royal status… to serve others (although in this case it’s divine status).
it’s possible that we find stories of unconditional dedication. Of people who have left their families and businesses to do humanitarian work. But like this… never!
And I say never, because we can’t imagine, with a mind like ours, what it means to be in the condition that our Lord left voluntarily to become a man. And live as a man. So, if it’s unimaginable is to understand His earlier situation… it’s even more so to understand the extent of His humiliation.
Therefore, our Teacher does not teach a novel philosophy. He does not come with a new religion. He isn’t a teacher of the dogmatic. Our Jesus of Nazareth is our example. He isn’t asking us to do anything that can’t be done.
For that reason, I sincerely believe that the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount is possible. That the Beatitudes are possible. That His Church is possible. And I believe so… not because I’m capable. But because He made it possible for us. John
3:16-17 (New International Version) “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,[a] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.