April 2006 - Volume 10, Issue 9

Jesus And The Ambitious

By Msgr. Frank Wissel

Photo of pink tulips

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, are two of the all-time heroes of the Christian faith. They walked with Jesus almost from the beginning of his public ministry and were seemingly closer to him than any other apostles, with the exception of Peter.

John lived a long and honored life, and five books of the New Testament are attributed to his authorship. James, on the other hand, was one of the earliest martyrs of the faith, having died at the hand of Herod. Across the centuries, these two brothers have stood as prime examples of Christian discipleship at its highest and best.

This historical truth should be kept in mind as we look for the message in the Gospel reading where these heroes of the faith came to Jesus with a request: "See to it that we sit, one on your right and the other on your left, when you come into your glory."

This was nothing more than a brazen bid for prominence. They wanted the top spots in the kingdom and actually had the nerve to ask for them. When the other disciples learned of this, they were offended and became angry with James and John. Had we been there, our reaction would probably have been the same. Sincere Christians, we think, are not supposed to have that kind of ambition. We are called to self-denial.

Jesus did not rebuke James and John for their request and there is no hint that he was even offended by their ambition. He simply told them that they were asking for something that he did not have the power to give. Then he called all of his disciples together to teach them the true meaning of greatness.

Jesus believed that all people are empowered with a capacity of greatness, but most of them miss it because they seek it in the wrong way. Jesus contradicted their concept of greatness. For him, "...the greatest must serve the rest; whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all."

Jesus encouraged his disciples to aspire to greatness, but raises the new standard as to what that means – serve most, help most. Make yourself useful and that alone is what it means to be great.

Jesus himself was a nobody from a carpenter's shop. He never had money. He never held an office. Yet "no man can write an honest history of the development of civilization and the progress of humanity without giving a prominent place to the penniless Teacher of Nazareth." Have you ever thought how strange it is that Jesus, himself, is considered to be one of the great men of history?

It is a given fact that Jesus is God incarnated. His humanity is what draws us to him. His divinity is a given.

We are dealing here with a stubborn truth to which all history ultimately bears witness: Greatness will finally be measured in terms of usefulness. Anything other than that is a cheap substitute that will never stand the test of time.

The longer I preach Christ, the more amazed I am at his insight. He is so unexpectedly, incredibly right. Even when his message seems out of step with all common sense, he still turns out to be correct.

So the issues is put squarely to every one of us: If you want to live a great life, if at the end of the day you want to be remembered as a great man or a great woman, there is one way and only one way: "Anyone among you who aspires to greatness must serve the needs of all."