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29th Sunday in Ordinary Time | Be careful what you ask God for … but ask him anyway

The Martyrdom of St James, Francisco di Zurbaran, 1639, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

The Martyrdom of St James, Francisco di Zurbaran, 1639, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

“Allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory,” ask James and John in today’s Gospel.  Jesus replies, “You do not know what you are asking!.. Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I must be baptised?’

“We can,” they reply in their ignorance, and Jesus, knowing already what will happen in the future, says, “The cup that I must drink you shall drink, and with the baptism with which I must be baptised you shall be baptised.”  For God, glory doesn’t mean what we think it means – it is instead a life of service and self-giving.  James (the Greater, son of Zebedee) did indeed drink of the cup of suffering and eventually became the first apostle to be martyred in the year 44 A.D. when he was put to the sword by Herod Agrippa.  He is the only one of the Twelve whose death is recorded in Scripture (read Acts 12:1-2).  This is how the Church historian, Eusebius (260/265 – 339/340), recounts it in Church History, Book 2, chapter 9:

Chapter 9. The Martyrdom of James the Apostle.

  1. Acts 12: 1-2.  Now about that time (it is clear that he means the time of Claudius) Herod the King stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the Church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.
  2. And concerning this James, Clement, in the seventh book of his Hypotyposes, relates a story which is worthy of mention; telling it as he received it from those who had lived before him. He says that the one who led James to the judgment-seat, when he saw him bearing his testimony, was moved, and confessed that he was himself also a Christian.
  3. They were both therefore, he says, led away together; and on the way he begged James to forgive him. And he, after considering a little, said, Peace be with you, and kissed him. And thus they were both beheaded at the same time.
  4. And then, as the divine Scripture says, (Acts 12:3 sqq) Herod, upon the death of James, seeing that the deed pleased the Jews, attacked Peter also and committed him to prison, and would have slain him if he had not, by the divine appearance of an angel who came to him by night, been wonderfully released from his bonds, and thus liberated for the service of the Gospel. Such was the providence of God in respect to Peter.

All of the other apostles, except John, were martyred for proclaiming their faith in Christ. You can read more about their ultimate fates here from the 3rd century Bishop of Caesarea.

But what does all this have to do with you and me?  Does it mean I should be afraid to ask God for good things in case he expects me to suffer instead?  No, it means we should re-examine our motives in our requests.  God wants to give us good things, but he also wants to purify our hearts so that we don’t become slaves to Aquinas’s four typical substitutes for God: wealth, power, pleasure or honour.  Fr Robert Barron has a wonderful homily for today on Real Spiritual Power: take the time to listen to it.

Our Readings for today:

Word format: Year B 29th Sunday 2015

Pdf format: Year B 29th Sunday 2015