17th October, 2021

Santiago de Compostela

Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mark, 10:35-45

There is such a simple story about a young man who – at some point in his life – left his home and family and went to look for a job for himself, but only one that would bring him real satisfaction and happiness. He was walking hundreds of miles, on his way he met many people, passed a lot of towns and villages, but nowhere could he find what he was looking for – the right job for himself. One day, when he was very tired and exhausted from the heat, he sat in the shadow of a roadside tree and suddenly noticed someone who caught his attention. It was an older farmer working in the field with incredible enthusiasm and determination. He was looking carefully at him very amazed by all the effort he was putting into his hard work. At that moment many thoughts began to appear in his mind. The young man – although he was very shy – came up to the farmer and very confidently began his conversation: Sorry to interrupt you my friend, but I’ve been watching you working for a while and maybe I’m wrong, but I think you must be a very happy man. As I see, your work is neither easy nor pleasant, and yet you are able to do it with a smile on your face. Please tell me what is your secret? The older man straightened up immediately, looked at him and said: Indeed, I am a happy man who has nothing to complain about actually, because whatever I do, I always think of God. I always think of Him with gratitude but also about my family, my beloved wife who is waiting for me at home, about my children and everyone I love, and that is my whole philosophy, that is why I am happy even though my job is not easy and pleasant. The young man listened to him with great attention, and then said: I feel like I have found the right person. I think you really helped me understand better what is the essence of my dilemma and actually now I understand that don’t need to travel to find what I am looking for. Now I know why I struggled to find a job for myself, that would give me satisfaction, I couldn’t find it because so far I was thinking only about myself!”

The two Apostles, James and John also thought only about themselves when they said to Jesus: We want you to do us a favour. Allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory. As we have heard Jesus very wisely used this particular situation to explain to his disciples – perhaps once again – what it means to be great. Anyone who wants to become great among you, must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. As we ponder this passage, I am sure we all have the same feelings and temptation to judge James and John as the other apostles did. As the Gospel says: When the other ten heard this they began to feel indignant with James and John, and we know why. Because both of them asked Jesus for something extra, for something special only for themselves. Moreover, they tried to get something extra behind the backs of others, which, must have been very weird, unfair and selfish at the same time. I think today, instead of judging and criticizing these two Apostles, Jesus wants to encourage us to look at our lives and to do a little examination of conscience asking ourselves: Are we not like James and John at times? Perhaps sometimes – we too – consider ourselves very special, we consider ourselves to be someone who deserves more than the others, or to be more privileged than others in society, in the Church, in the community in which we live.

There is one more thought that came to my mind and I would like to share it with you today. When I was a young student at my seminary in Poland, one of my lecturers said a very interesting thing: Whenever you start to prepare a list of your requests and wishes addressed to God, be very careful – he said – and make sure you really know what you are asking for, because you never know how much and to what extent God can surprise you. I think that both of them, James and John, can be a good example of how wise and how true this sentence is. Anyone who knows them at least a little, he knows that James died as the first, and John died as the last of all Jesus’ disciples. So, we can say that James – in a sense – opens and John closes the list of the Apostles. James shed his blood for Jesus, and today he is venerated in the Church as a martyr, and as you know thousands of people from around the world walk every year to Santiago de Compostela in Spain to visit his grave and to ask for his blessing and spiritual support. His brother John is known mostly as an author of one of the Gospels. He was the only disciple of Jesus who died a natural death, he didn’t shed his blood, but it was him who was brave enough to not run away – as the other Apostles did – at the most dramatic moment on Calvary. It was him who was standing by the cross to the very end and who heard from Jesus his last will and desire that John take Mary to himself and as the Gospel says he did so – from that moment John made a place for Our Lady in his home. James and John, they are both undoubtedly very prominent and significant heroes of the Gospel and they both enjoy privileged places both in the Church and also in heaven.

Let us follow the example of these two outstanding figures, these two saints, brothers and apostles; and let us pray that through their intercession, we may deserve to sit with them at the right hand and at the left hand of Jesus in his glory.

Fr Gregory