A good friend gently chided us at the post-Mass coffee klatch this morning. Our offense? Not remembering to wish him well on “his” feast day, the Feast of St. James, Apostle.
Naturally, we responded that we thought he ought to claim “St. James the Lesser” as his patron, not “the Greater”.
The Catholic puns continued to fly for a while, before we moved on to other topics of the day. And then a bit later in the morning, I began to reflect on the irony of the whole discussion.
Sure, hagiographers are quick to note that the “greater” and “lesser” titles are matters of convenience, to help us distinguish between the two apostles who share the same name…rather than labels that carry any sort of pejorative intent.
But the gospel reading we hear on today’s feast paints a slightly different picture of “the greater” saint.
The mother of [James and John] approached Jesus with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something.
He said to her, “What do you wish?” She answered him, “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your Kingdom.”
At least in some people’s eyes, there does seem to be a pecking order among the apostles – a desire for status and acknowledgment.
Jesus, of course, is having none of it. You can almost imagine the look on the Lord’s face (perhaps accompanied by a face-palm?) as he responds:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.
Today’s coffee-klatch conversation reminded me just how difficult a lesson this seems to be for us to learn. We’re forever engaged in “worthiness” games, always jockeying for position. But here’s what interesting: Even though Jesus knows this about us…even though he can see it’s against the odds…he keeps betting on us to change.
It’s a marvelous blessing, to keep company with such a prodigal Savior. I was reminded of that fact while on retreat last week at King’s House in Belleville. There, in the chapel, sits a uniquely-shaped altar – designed by renowned liturgical artist Brother Mel Meyer SM.
With its octagonal shape, Brother Mel wrote,
“…the altar reminds one, in some respects, of a poker table, situated like you would see at a KC [Knights of Columbus] meeting, and so it always reminds me of when our Lord broke bread at the table, our Lord was the most compulsive spiritual gambler that lived, for he bet his whole life on us.”
Notice that Jesus makes the bet, even though we always seem to be a little slow on the uptake. Despite our often-exasperating habits, stubbornness and pride, Jesus doesn’t fold – ever. Rather, he simply gazes into our eyes with love, patience and forgiveness…and then doubles-down.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.