Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Proper 24 B - Oct 18, 2015

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Reinaldo Martinez-Cubero, n/OHC
Proper 24 B - Sunday, October 18, 2015

Job 38: 1-7, 34-41
Hebrews 5: 1-10
Mark 10: 35-45

Grant us to sit, one at your right hand, and one at your left in your glory
“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand, and one at your left in your glory.” Just in case you don’t know, this is what happened before that little display of obtuseness: “…he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise.” (Mark 10: 32-34) To that James and John say: “Hmm, so, is there any way that you could grant us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory?” Real sensitive!

I have read many commentaries about this gospel lesson since I started preparing for this sermon. Not surprisingly, I’ve read references about James and John being dense, not very smart, clueless. “Those poor disciples, they just didn’t get it”, wrote one commentator. True, they didn’t. But, how easy it is to point the finger, and to place the problem elsewhere. It seems to me that the question should really be, do we get it?

These gospel stories have been around for two thousand years, and we still don’t get it. One only needs to look at what happens during presidential campaigns in this country- the millions of dollars that candidates raise in order to be on top and have more power over the other. And how about TV shows where titans of business are the stars, judges and lawyers flex their muscles, the rich and famous boast about their lives of excess and show us their luxurious gigantic homes, or the many “reality” shows where those who want their five minutes of fame are exploited, and often, their materialistic behavior, or their vulgarity is glamorized. Do we get it? It can even happen in more subtle ways, when we look for clout, prestige, authority, and status in our lives or when we believe we are above rules because of our sense of entitlement.

Of course the disciples didn’t get it! “…whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” Jesus’ message was a radical one in the ancient world, and it is still a radical one in our world today. “‘Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?’ They replied, ‘We are able.’”

Many years ago I held auditions for a musical revue I was directing at the youth theatre that I founded and managed in NYC for fifteen years before entering the monastery. The musical revue was Tintypes, a chamber piece that provides a history lesson focusing on the period in the United States between the turn of the 20th century and the onset of World War I. At the audition was thirteen year-old Nik, who seemed to have more enthusiasm than any other kid auditioning, and who specified on his audition form that he wanted to be considered for the role of T.R., a very demanding role. While Nik had great determination, he had very little musical theatre experience, which was a concern given the complexity of the role for which he was auditioning. There were other older, and more experienced kids at the audition, although they did not have nearly as much enthusiasm.

After the audition I pulled Nik aside and said: “So, you want to be considered for T.R.?” “Yes”, was his serious and assertive response. So I said: “Look, if I cast you in this role, you are going to have to work really, really hard. I will be very tough on you, I will demand a lot from you, and I may not always be very nice. On top of that, I can’t really guarantee to you that you will have great performances because I can’t really predict that. If you do it, you have to embrace the process. Are you sure you want to do this?” “Yes, I can do it”, was his very determined response.

So Nik was cast as T.R. in the production of Tintypes. It was a bumpy ride. He worked very hard. He made many mistakes. Sometimes, when things became scary, he wanted to run away. As promised, I was very demanding, and not always very nice. The work was not about achieving status, or power over anyone because in fact, all the roles in Tintypes are equal in terms of their level of difficulty and complexity. What I didn’t promise because I could not have known, is that, Nik’s performances were wonderful, and thankfully, the experience in the end was a meaningful one for him.

James and John may not have fully grasped to what it was that they were agreeing. And they surely lived into it very clumsily, often missing the mark, especially in the beginning. But they did eventually get it, and gave their lives fully in love, to discipleship, James, even onto death by martyrdom. From my experience this last year I can say that the reason why one says yes to that call, keeps evolving, sometimes even every month. For us who choose to answer the call of Jesus, the act of following the path can be quite clumsy at times, and as humans, like James, and John we make mistakes and miss the mark time and time again. And following Jesus also means struggle, and pain, and suffering. It means the cross. Jesus guarantees to his disciples that suffering is inevitable. “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized”. But the glory of sitting at the right or left hand of Jesus, that’s up to God. I couldn’t guarantee to Nik that his performances after so much hard work were going to be great, and Jesus couldn’t guarantee to James and John positions in his glory.

What Jesus does do is to give us a perfect example of how to live today. He liberates us from the bonds of sin, and lifts us onto true communion with God. He came “to give his life as a ransom” for us. His life, death and resurrection transform us, and lead to our salvation. When we mediate on his teachings our consciousness is raised, and through our raised consciousness we enter into communion with God.  This is the way in which Jesus’ death raised humanity’s collective consciousness and brought humanity into communion with God.  This is salvation, the cosmic awareness that we are all one with God. Salvation is not just about what happens after we die.  It is about the here and now.  It is about how we experience God, and our relationship with God.  It is about how we are to live in the world today.  It is about service and transformation. It is not about where we will sit in heaven. Otherwise, it would simply be a commercial transaction and not spiritual transformation.

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