Glorious thrones—Sunday of St Mary of Egypt

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, one God, Amen.

The drive to be the best, to be the superior, to be above others, is strong in our society.  Whether valued against our neighbour, or people in general, we want to be wealthier than they are, stronger than they are, more beautiful than they are.  We desire power and prestige, honour and respect, and for others to know our true value.  We look to the billionaires, to the celebrities, to the powerful, to the beautiful, as our role models, heroes and heroines.

In the previous chapter from today’s Gospel reading, we hear,

[Christ] came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?’
But [the disciples] kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest.

Mark 9:33–34

And the Lord dealt with them calmly and with great love.

And he sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.’
Then he took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when he had taken him in his arms, he said to them,
‘Whoever receives one of these little children in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.’

verses 35–37

Yet hearing this the disciples did not learn—I do not learn!—that ours is not a faith for making us rich, powerful or to look down on others, rather we show our fidelity to the Lord by serving others.  And the “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17) come forward and say, “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.”  And this is precisely what I want.  Like them, I gloss over delivery to the chief priests, condemnation to death, mockery, scourging and execution—I want the “good parts” of the Gospel while I omit what is required of me.  Despite Christ repeatedly telling the disciples, “The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill him.  And after he is killed, he will rise the third day,” (Mark 9:31) they could not depart from the worldly way of thinking, from desiring celebrity and riches.

But here my similarity with the disciples ends.  When they have encountered the risen Christ, when they receive the Holy Spirit, they cease their cowering and proclaim Christ risen from the dead.  They suffered ridicule, imprisonment, beatings, tortures, exile and death for the sake of the Truth of the Resurrection: I still want my glorious throne without reference to suffering, my own fame without service to others, riches without reference to God.  I want what the world offers and I want God and his Church to give it to me.

The other disciples, too, still had to learn: “And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant of James and John.”  If they truly knew what the sons of Zebedee asked they would have rejoiced that the brothers would desire to drink the cup which Christ drinks and offer their lives that others may live.  Yet they too, save the son of perdition (John 17:12), would put off the old man and put on the new (see Ephesians 4:22–24), they too would “[go] forth into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world,” (Psalm 18:5 ʟxx) they too would “Go and make disciples of all the nations.” (Matthew 28:19)

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, do we want God to provide us only with the blessings promised without reference to the Cross?  Or will we repent, will we accept the fullness of the Gospel as did the disciples, will we bear our own cross?  The Resurrection is assured, Christ has defeated death, will we offend him by asking in return an earthly throne which leads to death or a heavenly one which leads to Life, eternal Life, Life without end?

Let us turn again to the living God, let us repent, let us carry our crosses as we follow the Lord to Life.

That we may offer true honour, praise and worship to our incarnate, crucified and risen God and Saviour Jesus Christ, together with his unoriginate Father and the All-holy, Good and Life-creating Spirit.  Amen.

Brethren, when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
— Hebrews 9:11–14

At that time, Jesus took his twelve disciples, and 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.” And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him, and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant of James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
— Mark 10:32–45