Ambition and Service: The Feast of St. James ~ The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI
The Feast of St James, Apostle and martyr
Reading 1:2 COR 4:7=15
R Psalm:PS 126:1BC=2AB,2 CD=3,4=5,6
Gospel: MT 20:20=28
We all know some people who have very high ambitions. It can range from wanting to win the lottery maybe, or getting a certain perfect job. Maybe a top-class car, a mansion or lots of wealth and possessions. Even in some churches, I have seen those whose only ambition is to become a Bishop, nothing else is good enough for them,the ambition of power and status.
Whilst some ambition is a good thing, if you are setting goals for yourself or for an organisation, it is when our ambition loses its balance and ignores the consequences for others, that ambition can become toxic and corrupt.
We have an example of over ambition in our Gospel reading today from Matthew. James and his brother John, who together with Peter are the three favoured apostles, approached Jesus together with their mother. According to Matthew, it was indeed their mother who asks Jesus to promise her sons would get the highest places in His heavenly Kingdom. Jesus responds directly to James and John and Jesus recognising the possibility of corruption in their ambition, Jesus puts a stop to it by asking them, “Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?” Without truly understanding what they had agreed to, they replied that they could. Jesus knowing full well what awaited them, concurred with their agreement. Just like a good parent will give their teenage children a realistic picture of what to expect in Adult life, Jesus tells them that indeed they will have much to suffer.
James the Apostle that we celebrate today, became the first Martyr amongst the apostles. Jesus knew that ambition wasn’t a bad thing in itself, and he didn’t wish to extinguish his apostles enthusiasm, indeed it’s an enthusiasm about eternal life, it’s a goal that each and every one of is should indeed have as great things are rarely achieved without both enthusiasm and suffering. Jesus just needed to refocus their ambition, so that they would truly understand not just the goal of eternal life, but also the true nature of the pathway that that is required to achieve this goal. Jesus knowing that the Apostles could possibly succumb to the temptations of personal ambition, gave the Twelve apostles a lecture on power and authority to remind them that authority in the kingdom must not imitate the authority that is ever so present in the world.
Jesus tells them that their role as his apostles =the first shepherds of His church, was not to rule but instead was to serve. Jesus didn’t only tell them to serve only each other and the lowly of the world, but offers himself as an example -revealing to them that he will go so far as to sacrifice his very life for the sake of all humanity. “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for the many”. Jesus is telling James, John and the other apostles that the ambitious are blessed, but that their ambition must not be driven by self=assertion, but by self=extinction. This message also goes the same for us today, that we always act with Thanksgiving and praise :Thanksgiving because all that we have, all that we are, all that we achieve =all of this is solely given to us by the Grace of God, and praise because all that we do must be for the Glory of God and not for ourselves.
Let us pray :
O Gracious God,
We remember before you today thy servant and Apostle James, the first amongst the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the name of Jesus Christ ; and we pray that you will pour out upon the leaders of your Church that Spirit of self=denying service by which alone they may have true authority amongst thy people, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord,
Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, for ever and ever.
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