The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (10:32-45)
Today is the fifth and final Sunday of Great and Holy Lent. Tomorrow we begin the sixth and final week of this fast. I pray that it has been profitable for each of us. And if for some reason we believe that it has not been, I pray that God will give us courage to push ahead regardless as we aim for the imperishable crown of victory with Christ and His saints. The promises of God are true. Every last one of them. God has promised us everything, only endure to the end.
During this last Sunday of Lent the Church draws our attentions to the future, to what is to come. We are told that Our Lord Jesus Christ “took his twelve disciples, and 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 kill Him; and after three days He will rise.”
Sometimes when we are in the middle of Holy Week and we hear all of the amazing readings about all that Our Lord Jesus suffered, and we hear the reactions of the disciples, we might forget that in fact the Lord Himself told the disciples what was to happen. This was from His very lips. Yet somehow they still did not understand and did not believe. In fact we see that two of His disciples come to Him with a request. Our Lord is ever so gracious and He gladly allows them to request their hearts desire. We thank God that He also allows us to request our hearts desire. He said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the sons of thunder, the brothers James and John said to Him, “Grant us to sit, one at thy right hand and one at thy left, in thy glory.”
Now this is truly fascinating on many levels. First we recall that in one of the gospels it is written that it was the mother of James and John who made this request. Nevertheless, this is how it is reported to us according to St. Mark. What is so fascinating is that at the time when the Lord Jesus Christ was the most vulnerable and most honest about the trials and tribulations that He was about to face, His disciples were glossing over that and only thinking about glory and honor. After the disciples had spent nearly three continuous years sitting at the feet of the Lord and learning from Him, soaking in every word and every miraculous moment, yet they did not understand at all.
I think that often we are exactly like the disciples. We might follow the Lord for years but we can’t seem to understand what it means that the Lord really suffered. We can’t understand that the Lord endured humiliation. And we can go a step further, we can’t seem to understand that we must also suffer tremendously in this life. This is why the Lord replied to the brothers, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink…”?
So often we want to have the glory of following Christ, we want holiness, we want a good reputation, we want paradise, we want to sit and eat with the saints. But Christ calls us to first live like the saints and suffer with the saints before we can begin to enter rest with the saints and with the Lord. No matter what type of life you attempt to engineer for yourself, you have to face trials and temptations and suffering of one form or another. As we heard on Wednesday night while listening to St. Innocent of Alaska, he taught the people that we as Christians suffer both external and internal crosses, and it’s not acceptable to run away from those crosses. Christ our Lord knew that He would suffer and instead of running away from it, He embraced it with God as His only helper. Courage is necessary my brothers and sisters. We see this courage in the lives of the martyrs. Had they been cowards, we would barely even remember that they had ever existed. And we tell ourselves and others that we would like to be like the martyrs and suffer and die for our faith, yet the smallest life circumstances and troubles come our way and we begin to think of new ways to betray Christ and run away from our duties and obligations. Face up to your crosses, your trials and difficulties, with the help of God.
We try to face up to our crosses and bear them with courage because in doing so, we save not only ourselves but we also serve others. When we lack courage, we can’t help anyone. When we think only about ourselves and how we can best have what we desire in life then no one is edified or sanctified and no one is helped at all. We often want to be like James and John and sit in glory, but the Lord reminds them and us saying “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be servant 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.”
This is given to us for our sakes. As a reminder and a call to take courage as your friend and companion, not only during this fasting season but during every part of Christian life. The Lord desires with all of His heart to give us the joy and the power of the resurrection. But there is an order, just as there was an order in the life of our Lord and anytime we try to have things out of place and without the proper order then our life won’t reflect the love of Christ, it will just look like chaos. Hear these difficult words from St. Mark the Ascetic,
“Unless a man gives himself entirely to the Cross, in a spirit of humility and self-abasement; unless he casts himself down to be trampled underfoot by all and despised, accepting injustice, contempt and mockery; unless he undergoes all these things with joy for the sake of the Lord, not claiming any kind of human reward whatsoever – glory or honor or earthly pleasures – he cannot become a true Christian.” -“Letter to Nicolas the Solitary”, The Philokalia: The Complete Text (Vol. 1)
We become true Christians through our embrace and love for the cross of Christ which is demonstrated perfectly in our embrace of our own crosses. And when we do this joyfully, then we become not only true Christians but true human beings made in the image and likeness of God. AMEN.