He said to her, “What do you wish?”
She answered him,
“Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.” (Matthew 20:20-21)
The philosophical meaning of the above exchange between the Mother of James and John and Jesus delves into a complicated and profound part of our human psyche. – the yearning of Affirmation – our raison d’être or literally ‘reason for being.’
No matter who we are, rich or poor, good or bad, it is the elixir of our well being. The most affirming phrase we commonly use is “I Love You”, but affirmation may also be expressed as “Well Done” or even “Thank You”, expressions that are especially encouraging when given or received sincerely. It is the classic happy ending to the book or movie — that part, which made the story all worth the while.
There are parts of our lives when we are fortunate to experience affirmation for ourselves. The moment in courtship when you hear those words and your heart leaps — you physically want to “Jump for Joy.” The moment when that diploma or degree is placed in your hand — the culmination and visible proof of all your hard work. The recognition after you have done something for someone else.
Teachers and parents know how important it is to be liberal with affirmation towards their impressionable students and children. Any businessman or diplomat will tell you how important it can be to lead a negotiation with affirmation prior to explaining possible negative consequences.
Relationships are born out of affirmation. They quickly morph into our zones of comfort, where we can find each other and ourselves at Peace. In marriage we call it “Honeymoon,” though it is not long before our humanity and differences return to test the bonds as we continually yearn for that peace. Through Love and trust and discipline we can grow our relationships to last.
As people of Faith our ultimate realization of affirmation is salvation. Some of us beg for it on our knees, others believe it is elusive and yet others think it is automatic. The exchange in the Gospel reading above is very revealing and continues with Jesus saying, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?”
The cup Jesus spoke about was his crucifixion, his sacrifice for our sins — the greatest human expression of God’s Love. We pause when confronted with this question. Are we truly willing to make the sacrifices necessary for our salvation — to hang ourselves on that cross with Jesus?
Most of us want to take a rain check, to get back to the question later, to give ourselves time to think. In any case there are a hundred and one reasons why we don’t have the time — right now.
Jesus continues: “You will indeed drink!” This is what we call life, as it really is. There is no way we can say that life is easy, with no bumps, or curves, complete with sacrifice. If we do not sacrifice we despair and shackle ourselves to a mere existence. Jesus merely confirms the truth of our state, our humanity. Friend or no friend, the decision is ours.
Then Jesus defers to His Father as to the degree of recognition we may or may not receive, which is easy for us to understand, but then he delivers the message, which should resonate with us: “whoever wishes to be great among you, shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. The Son of Man did to come to be served, but to serve – and to give his life as ransom for many.”
So there it is, the plain truth. Salvation rests at the end of our service to others.
To place these remarks in context we must appreciate that they occurred when the Apostles were accompanying Jesus to Jerusalem, after he had already told them he would be crucified. The paradox of these circumstances is that the Apostles, his friends and confidants, had spent three years in close contact with the Messiah and yet, at the crucial moment, they left him, except for his Mother, Mary a reformed sinner, and John.
Lent is the most appropriate season to reflect upon and join Jesus in his journey to calvary. We can fill that place of the one at the foot of the cross and share in the sacrifice.
There is an important reason why we should. There is a bond that is created between those who share suffering. Soldiers know it when they build “A Band of Brothers” in the crucible of War. We too can build that bond with Jesus when we share our own adversities with him. What better place or time to exchange our hearts in common comfort?
The historical end of this story is completed with the resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. Many of us consciously leave it there as an ending. We close the book or leave the theater with a warm glow of satisfaction, reluctant to see the true beginning and dwell in the “Happily ever after.”
It is precisely in the “ever after” where Jesus wants us to be. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, ON EARTH.”
Years ago we used to know when the circus arrived as they paraded themselves through the heart of town. They showed off all their wonders and treats before we had to spend a single penny on a ticket. The New Testament scripture is just like that parade, inviting us to come into the tent.
Unfortunately many of us believe our friendship with Jesus is one sided, an understandable one-way relationship considering that he exists in a spiritual realm, while we are physical.
The Apostle John says “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).
God even sends us his Holy Spirit, who is entirely at our disposal every second of every day. There is nothing – nothing that separates us from God – except ourselves.
How many times do we ask God to come to us, to satisfy our wishes, our goals, like some sort of Grace tap that we can turn on and off as we choose? God is always there, but we should make the first move, and John tells us to meet God as He is — in the Spirit.
The above verse from Matthew is taken from the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. A story that is summed up by Bishop Baron: “The Bible is not the story of our quest for God, but of God’s passionate, relentless quest for us. We are on very holy ground for the whole of salvation is summed up here: Our thirst for God meets God’s even more dramatic thirst for us.” Augustine picked up on this in his commentary on the passage: “Jesus was thirsty for the woman’s faith.”
Any relationship has to have a beginning. The reason for asking is so you may get to know God better. “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.”
Only the fortunate few like Paul are thrown off their horse and are forced to meet with him face to face. A meeting with God has to be arranged. We can start by believing in Him, really believing in Him, and this we can express by thanking him for all of his graces and blessings. It is a revealing experience to contemplate upon the never ending list of blessings.
We can then begin to include Him in every aspect of our lives. This will gradually replace our secular wants, for he will not follow us anywhere he is not wanted. Then we can reconcile ourselves with Him for all our past misdeeds.
Finally we can become his resting place, his comfort zone, as we welcome him through communion. Reflect for a moment on the responsibility of physically carrying our redeemer and savior Jesus Christ in our hearts.
Every close relationship has its rewards, its Affirmation, but a relationship with Christ supersedes all. “Follow Me” is not a commandment, it is a suggestion, a path, The Path.
Most of us will not accept the invitation, believing that it is difficult or bereft of happiness and full of sacrifice. It is nothing of the kind and those assumptions do not even make sense. Try to think of a single occasion when Jesus walked past even one person who believed in Him. He does not put obstacles in our way, but doors, with constant invitations.
Oswald Chambers quotes Genesis 18, which “brings out the delight of true friendship with God, as compared with simply feeling His presence occasionally in prayer. When you have a right-standing relationship with God, you have a life of freedom, liberty, and delight; you are God’s will. And all of your commonsense decisions are actually His will for you.”
The source of Affirmation is God, for God is Love and it is a gift that he lavishes upon those who love him.