Children, in their hopeful innocence, often ask their parents for things which, in their young mind’s eyes, would be the most spectacular blessing a child could ever receive, such as a new pet, a real diamond princess tiara, or a red rider BB gun. To parents, such requests are annoying since, as any adult knows, such gifts are unrealistic, requiring more care than a child might be willing or able to give, or be to costly and impractical or to dangerous and they might shoot their eye out! Adults, out of passion or deep desire are also prone to such impetuous requests from those they deeply admire and respect, such as a mentor, a boss or even a clergy member; denial of these requests can be just as heartbreaking as denying children. The brothers John the apostle and James the greater, were Galilean fishermen who initially followed St. John the baptist and were subsequently called by Jesus to be two of His first disciples. These rugged men had mild dispositions, but when ignited by passion, their outbursts raged like a tempest such that Jesus affectionately called them the “sons of thunder”.
In Mark’s Gospel 10:35-45, Jesus and His disciples were on the road to Jerusalem. Jesus had just told the twelve of His impending passion and they, of course, did not understand God’s plan. It is not surprising that the brothers asked to be at Jesus’ side when all is done, for the disciples interpreted what Jesus was telling them through worldly eyes; eyes clouded by human desire for victory over their oppressors and greatness in a newly established kingdom. Hence, they believed there would be a battle with the authorities in which Jesus would be victorious; John and James’ wanted to be right there next to Jesus, protecting Him and acting as faithful servants and, like so many of us, they wanted to be special. Of course, Jesus knew of His impending passion, the pain, the suffering and His eventual sacrifice. He tried to dissuade the brothers, perhaps shaking His head as He explained how difficult it would be, much like when my mother used to ask me: “you really think you are man enough to walk ten miles in my klompen (wooden shoes)?” And just like me in my impetuous youth, these tough fishermen, these sons of thunder replied with a resounding “Heck yeah we can!”
How sad Jesus must have been, looking into the faces of these men whom He loved so much, men who were already special to Him; knowing what He knew, not only of His own fate, but the martyrdom of James and so many others. Jesus tells them: “yes, you are strong enough and you will face some of the things I must face, but my fate and your fates will not be the same for HaShem has a different design for each of us.” Again I hear the words of my mother “be careful of what you ask for, you might just get it and it might not be how you thought.”
When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up? Who did you emulate? What about when you were a teenager, and again when you were in your twenties? Many of us wanted to be like our parents at first, then we changed our minds at puberty when our parents became lame. We change our minds again as young adults and finally, we reach an age where we open our mouths and, much to our suprise, out comes things our parents said; “be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.” What a shock to admit our parents may have been correct! We all need role models to help shape our lives, to make us feel special, to give us hope, life direction and goals. As children, it is our parents who make us feel special, along with the superheroes, athletes and thespians of screen and stage, all whom we try to emulate. In adulthood, like the disciples, we turn to our mentors, leaders, bosses, Jesus, the saints and even our parents as role models to admire and imitate. Yet, as we desire to emulate these personal heroes, we must always be cautious to remember HaShem has a plan for each of us. I may wish to be a great preacher like St. Dominic, yet I cannot be St. Dominic; you may desire to walk the same path as St. Francis, but his path was HaShem’s gift for him and yours will not be the same. No matter how much we desire to emulate St. Dominic, St. Francis, Padre Pio, St. Benedict or any saint or hero, the best we can hope for is a poor imitation, and that is ok! If we get lost in trying to be great like our heroes, in trying to be special to those in the world, we risk losing ourselves to the world, to greed, to hunger for power and authority, in so doing we will stumble and fail as our feet become too big for our klompen. True heroes stand out because of their humility, devotion to servitude, and realization that to HaShem all people are special. They seek to decrease themselves so that they might allow other to increase; they gladly walk barefoot because they have given their klompen away. As Jesus taught James, John and the disciples “ whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave (Mark 10:43-44) The brothers asked to stand by Jesus so that they might know that they are indeed valued coheirs to His heavenly kingdom, and so they got it, but not in the way any of them expected… “be careful of what you ask for, you might just get it and it might not be how you thought.”
Every week we send up our petitions to HaShem, we ask for salvation, for guidance, for strength and wisdom; we ask that we might become a little more favored, a little more extraordinary. We hear the Good News, we sing our Creator’s praises and take the divine into ourselves so that we might merit to carry the light of Christ out with us and spread it throughout the world. We pray that the heavenly kingdom might come as HaShem’s will is finally done through us right here on earth, and that we might be worthy to sit next to our Lord in heaven. But my brothers and sisters, this path is not easy and as mom always said: “be careful of what you ask for.” Yet, in the end, is it not worth asking for the ability to live a saints life? Is it not worth asking for a chance to carry the light of Christ out into the world so that others might no longer live in darkness? Is it not worth asking strength to lift up those around us? So we should ask for the strength and humility to walk the path HaShem has set out for us, and if the gravel hurts your bare feet, don’t worry, you may have my klompen.