Archbishop Stephen Brislin offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Wednesday 26 May 2021, during this time of the coronavirus pandemic. It is also available on the Archdiocese of Cape Town’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Please also see below the text of his reflection, primarily for the deaf.
The Easter season has come and gone and we have commemorated the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the birth of the Church. Let us never forget to give thanks to God for the gift of the Church which brings us into unity with the Trinity and with each other. Welcome to this reflection. The Reading is taken from the Gospel of today’s Mass (Mark 10:32-45).
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 chalice that I drink, or to be baptised with the baptism with which I am baptised?”
Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, your providence never fails to protect us and give us that which nourishes and strengthens us. We humbly beseech you, that you keep from us all that might harm us and to grant us all that works for our good. We make this prayer, through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever, amen.
The request of the two sons of Zebedee follows Jesus’ warning, as they were going up to Jerusalem, that the Son of Man would be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, that he would be mocked, spat on, scourged and killed. It’s difficult to know what was going on in the minds of James and John that made them so insensitive and, presumably, arrogant. Had they heard Jesus? Did they think that he would triumph with an army over those who would harm him? Were they so seduced by the idea of the Messianic Kingdom, the Kingdom of God which Jesus proclaimed, that they were unable to perceive the nature of that Kingdom. Had they not understood Jesus’ teaching at all?
The request of the two sons not only reveals misunderstanding on their part, but also a desire for their advantage at the expense of others – thus they were ambitious, competitive, seeking honour and power, and wanting to keep it all in the family (nepotism), all for the wrong reason and at the expense of the other disciples. Such attitudes were common in the times of Jesus and, as we know, they are common in own context as well. It really all boils down to power and how power is applied, used and abused. Jesus knew that the rulers of his day had absolute and terrifying power, and thus he prophesied the nature of his death. But he, too, had power – after all he is the Son of God – but his power is of a vastly different nature. It is not the power of domination and selfishness, it is the power of liberation and wholeness. Thus at his trial, he could say to Pilate that indeed he is a king, but his kingdom is not of this world.
Everyone has power to a greater or lesser extent. Some wield political power, or economic power, there is religious power and cultural power. In all our relationships there is an element of power at play – in the family, at work, in the neighbourhood, shopping. There is nothing wrong with power, in fact we cannot live or function properly without it. It is all about how power is used. It can be used for good or for bad. It can be used in a domineering way or a liberating way, for self-interest or for the good of others, it can be arrogant or it can be humble, it can destroy or it can create, it can be violent or peaceful.
Jesus surrendered his power, as human beings think of it, by relinquishing his life and giving it into the hands of the violent. In so doing, he demonstrates a much more real power. What power did one so powerless have? He had the power of innocence, of goodness and of truth. Ironically, no-one had any power over him at all because he had abandoned everything he had to God, and was therefore totally free and unencumbered of any temptation to cling to anything that would curtail his freedom. He gave everything and, in doing so, not only won freedom and victory over death for all who would follow his way, the way of truth, goodness and innocence, but he also opened for them the Kingdom of God. .
The power of domination is, in the long run, essentially an illusion. It ends when someone stronger or more violent appears on the scene. It ends with death, even though those who wield such power may strut around and show disdain to others as if they are invincible. But the powers of goodness, truth and innocence – all manifested in Jesus’ life – do not end, and their fruits continue long after the person with these virtues has ceased to be. It is true that embarking on Jesus’ way may well lead to suffering, to drinking of the chalice he was to drink, and to share in the baptism that he was to receive. But it is the way to freedom, to righteousness and to complete unity with God.
So how do you use the power you have? Do you “lord it over other people” when they have made a mistake or annoyed you? Do you use it for your own advantage alone – to get what you want. Or are you able to rise above such feelings, and use it for the advancement of others, to encourage them and support them? It’s something we need to think about. I think St Phillip Neri, who we commemorate today, had an antidote for those who suffer an ambition for power – he said, Let us make fools of ourselves from time to time, and thus see ourselves, for a moment, as the all-wise God sees us.
Let us now pray for God’s blessing, (based on yesterday’s post Communion prayer):
The Lord be with you R/ And with your Spirit
Bow down for the blessing:
Look kindly on your people, O Lord, who long for the light and peace of your kingdom. Protect them for all that may harm them, in these difficult days, and give them perseverance in good works. We ask this through Christ our Lord, amen
May Almighty God bless you, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (+), amen.