“What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition and settled upon the organ of conviction, where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table.” ~ GK Chesterton
Misguided ambition takes center stage in today’s Gospel (Matthew 20:20-28) wherein we observe the mother of James the Greater, whose Feast Day ~ through no coincidence ~ we celebrate today, and John seeking to secure positions of prestige in the Kingdom of Heaven for her two sons.
And when it comes to soliciting favors, this woman isn‘t shy.
“Command that these two sons of mine to sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your Kingdom." she says, which prompts Jesus to explain to her “You do not know what you are asking,” further going on to explain that these two positions were not his to assign.
In his brilliant apologetics masterpiece “Orthodoxy,” GK Chesterton said “Humility was largely meant as a restraint upon the arrogance and infinity of the appetite of man. He was always out-stripping his mercies with his own newly invented needs. But what we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert – himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt – the Divine Reason…For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.”
Jesus on the other hand understood, loved and taught this idea of possessing an unwavering belief in the truth as taught to him by the Father. Ambition? Well, for Jesus it always paralleled the Father’s will, a divine plan that led him to the cross. He never stops working for us.
In the closing words of this passage, Jesus sums it up perfectly when he says "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant;whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."
We know that James ultimately did drink of the chalice that Jesus drank from, dying a martyr’s death at the hands of Herod after having returned to Jerusalem on the heels of his tireless evangelical journey throughout Spain. Through the Holy Spirit he replaced a lust for positions of power and prestige with the spiritual gifts of wisdom, humility, understanding and of course fortitude. We too must emulate James, seeking instead those things that eternal, those that yield heavenly glory. For our eternal fate hangs in the balance too.
“Cleanse us, O Lord, by the saving baptism of your Son’s passion, so that through the intercession of Saint James, whom you willed to be the first among the Apostles to drink of Christ’s chalice of suffering, we may live a life that is pleasing to you” ~ Amen