Readings: 2 Corinthians 4:7-15; Matthew 20:20-28
As a young man I attended a classical guitar concert by an internationally recognized master. It was glorious; the music seemed to flow from him as effortlessly as breathing. Inspired, I thought, “I want to play like that,” but when I tried I realized that inspiration is one thing but performance something entirely different.
Masters in any discipline make what they do look easy. Their work is inspiring and tempts us to believe that we can do it, too. We probably can, but to do so we first must realize that inspiration isn’t enough; commitment is what is needed.
Perhaps this is what happened to the Apostle James who we remember today. He, his brother, and all of the Apostles watched Jesus teach, heal, and perform wondrous miracles to the adulation of the crowds. Maybe the glory of it all got to him; maybe he was fooled into thinking that such success comes easy, that whatever Jesus did he could do. This would explain why, when Jesus asked James and John if they could drink the chalice He was going to drink they replied, We can (Matthew 20:22).
Of course they could; the question was, did they know the cost? As Pope Francis once said, “I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.” Jesus is Charity itself; God is love and there is no greater love than to die that others may live. Such a love virtually promises to hurt. Where James may have imagined sweet wine, a crown of leaves, and the cheers of a crowd, Jesus offered bitter gall, a crown of thorns, and a crowd cheering to see Him die.
This kind of love asks much; it may ask everything. Still, remember that the Holy Father also said, “Genuine love is demanding, but its beauty lies precisely in the demands it makes.” If we cannot see beauty in the cross, thorns and rejection, consider St. Paul’s perspective in the first reading. Who was ever more afflicted than Christ? Who more persecuted or struck down? Yet He was not constrained, not abandoned, not destroyed. Nor are we; rather, we are raised to new and eternal life. This is why Paul exhorts us to carry in ourselves what James and the other Apostles carried: the body of the dying Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:10). He knew under the only inspiration that matters – the Holy Spirit – that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also… and place us with you in his presence (2 Corinthians 4:14).
Although drinking from the chalice is not cheap, the reward is infinite. By so doing we commit ourselves to these life lessons of Christ, the Master: That true freedom is found only in obedience; that the greatest of leaders is the least of the servants; that the conqueror is the one who yields; and that the one who most truly loves life and lives it to the full is the one most willing to empty themselves even to death, that others may live.
St. James, pray for us.