Peace be with you.
I’m going to go out on a limb and admit something that may be kind of hard to hear: I am wounded. Now, I’m not going to sit up here and admit anything untoward. This is not a Jimmy Swaggart “I have sinned” moment for me. But, I will admit to you that I have had experiences in past assignments that really made me question whether I wanted to be assigned to a parish ever again and, even, whether I could continue to be a priest. By the grace of God, that last part passed and I settled back into my plan to be an active priest for fifty years, retire for one year, and then die. But, those hard experiences are wounds that I know I bring into this assignment.
I’m not sharing this for your pity. I would guess we all have wounds from past bad experiences if we took the time to think about it. The strangest thing for me is that I can remember a time in my own life when I would have never thought I would stand in front of you and admit that weakness. When I was in seminary, I used to look at the priests knew and think that he should just make a darn decision and everyone in the parish would respect what he would say. And then, for the 10 years that I was an associate pastor, I would get very frustrated when the pastors with whom I worked would do something with which I disagreed or something that went against church teaching, especially if they were doing so because they felt like their parishioners wanted it done that way and they didn’t want to have to take the time to explain why they should do it the right way, let alone having to take a tough stance against people who simply do not understand the whole point of the gospel. I look back on that associate pastor and realize how easy leadership looks when you’re not the one who is the leader.
And I wonder if St. James and St. John ever had these same feelings. During their lives, they, along with Simon Peter, form an inner circle of Jesus’ apostles who are present for the transfiguration and other miracles when Jesus dismisses everyone but them. They are given the nickname “Sons of Thunder” in fact because they take action and, as we heard in the gospel, ask for favors before others can. They ask to be the leaders when Jesus leaves. He is, after all, starting to talk about leaving so let’s figure out the order of succession. I mean, let’s admit it. No one wants Jude bumbling around trying to find lost things all day as their leader. And I’ve got to believe everyone was at least a little ill-at-ease around Judas by this point. Why not get a little order around here?
After the death of Jesus, St. James intimately felt what it was like to drink the cup of Jesus. He would go as far as Spain in his evangelization, successfully converting many to the faith, before returning to Jerusalem, where the Son of Herod the Great, also named Herod, would personally martyr him. He truly was baptized into the same baptism of Christ’s death and rose with Christ to the glory of eternal life.
St. John is called upon by Jesus from the cross to become like a son to Mary, his own Mother. He and Mary eventually leave Jerusalem where he takes care of her until she is taken up body and soul into heaven. Then, he leaves to the town of Ephesis and eventually is exiled to the Island prison of Patmos where he writes the fourth gospel. As the only Apostle to die from “natural causes” he is like the lone survivor left to write down the story of Jesus’ from his perspective. And what is the perspective of this younger son of thunder? What is he most known for? Love. It is said that, towards the end of his life, St. John would constantly repeat the beautifully brief homily “Little children, love one another.” Love heals our wounds. Love transforms the way we view our enemies into friends. Love drives out the fear of an unplanned pregnancy. Love tells us that not every fight is worth fighting but that some are.
I think this is what Jesus is trying to get across to all the disciples at the end of this gospel passage and what I’m taking from it as well. I want to lead like Jesus lead, which wasn’t by global takeover or arrogant declaration. He led by becoming a servant of all. He led by serving the least among us. He led by dying and giving us his body and blood for our salvation. If only we can have that kind of fearless attitude of servant leadership. May it be so. Amen.