July 25, 2017
I am intrigued by the juxtaposition of the readings from Matthew and Acts for this day. It is in Matthew that we hear of the desire of the mother of James and John – and I am guessing she is speaking her sons’ desire too – that they be given places of honor next to Jesus. It is in Acts we learn that James is martyred at the hands of Roman power exercised through the person of Herod Agrippa. So James did indeed drink of the cup from which Jesus drank, but certainly it was not for what he or his mother was asking.
Ambition within a community, even a community gathered around Christ, is not unknown, but it is not Jesus’ way. He models a leadership style of the self-offering of the servant which ushers in true freedom. In the Collect for Peace from the Daily Office we pray, “…to serve you is perfect freedom.” This freedom which comes from being bound to service to another is a paradox. It is not unlike a kite, which when tethered to a string is able to live fully into its “kiteness,” that is, to be truly free to fulfill its purpose to fly and drift with the wind. If one was to cut the string, in a misguided attempt to set it free, it would come crashing to the ground and no longer do what it was created to do. Oddly, human beings often mistake the way of destruction for freedom.
Obedience is not a popular concept in today’s world. Yet, when we make baptismal promises, or take vows in ordination or in marriage, we are making promises of obedience not because it restricts our freedom, but because in giving ourselves to these promises we are set free to be and become who God has created us to be. The ordained deacon is called to be the icon of such obedient service, thereby calling all of the baptized to this vision of faithful living. Baptism is, if you will, our expulsion from slavery in Egypt, an old way of life that destroys and diminishes, into the exodus of moving with and toward God. All along we are invited to feed on the manna of Eucharist freely given, indeed to drink the cup Jesus drank in our desert journey leading us home.
Part of what we celebrate in the person of James the Apostle is his grounding in service to Christ that moved beyond the desire for power to the deeper place of servant. It set him free to where he could offer even his life in joyful service to God and God’s people. Christ offers this freedom to us all.