The Daily Offices

The Daily Offices from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, (Canada 1962), including daily Bible readings and occasional sermons from the Cathedral of the Annunication of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa

Monday, April 03, 2006

Ye know not what ye ask

Fr. Peter Jardine's sermon for Passion Sunday

Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left, in thy kingdom. But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask.

The reading beginning at Matthew 20:20, may seem to be a somewhat puzzling choice of Gospel passage for today, Passion Sunday. What does this reading have to say about the Passion of our Lord?

On reflection, these verses from St. Matthew do, in fact, give rise to consideration about the Passion in a very particular way.

St. Mark records that the request was made by James and John themselves. Whether it was them or them through their mother is unimportant. The fact is that these two men, Apostles both, were wholeheartedly part of what is really a very human demand. What they asked showed up their imperfections and we have much to learn from that.

James, John and their mother were not listening to, or not understanding some very recent and somber words from Jesus. In v.18 He says, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge, and to crucify Him:

When Jesus answers the three, Ye know not what ye ask, those words are pregnant with the Passion. Our Lord was fully aware of what was coming and He had just described His forthcoming agony to those around Him. Somehow, that part of what He said seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

He also referred to the glory which was to come. In v.19, He concludes, and the third day He shall rise again. Now that, and everything associated with it was heard.

James and John come in for much criticism for requesting preferred seats, criticism which emerged almost at once. And when the ten heard it they were moved with indignation against the two brethren.

Even today, when these verses are looked at, it is still common to take a critical position with respect to the two Apostles. But before we condemn them we should pause and think a little.

For one thing, they behaved in the same human fashion in which we are all likely to behave. But there is no suggestion here that they thought they merited such special seats and at the same time, they displayed a faith which we should take to heart. They would not have made such a request had they not believed in the glory that was to be Christ’s. Their thoughts were full of His throne and the majesty which was to be His, but under their incomplete understanding was that kernel of faith which later flowered with such power and beauty.

Furthermore, we know that the cloud was dispersed from their understanding and they went on to become pillars of the Church. So let us be gentle on these men and on such as we find around us, whose Christianity seems to us to be lacking. We cannot know what is in their hearts, what seed God is nurturing into sainthood.

Having said that, the sad thing is that there is a cloud of ignorance which shrouds so many of us in these matters. It is so easy to focus on the rewards and forget the price required. Luther said, The flesh ever seeks to be glorified before it is crucified.

Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?

These Gospel verses are indeed pregnant with the Passion. I suspect we all know what it is like to anticipate a visit to the dentist. We just know, days ahead of time, that it will hurt and the closer it gets the more nervous we get. Even more so if we need a serious operation.

Jesus is filled with the knowledge of what is to come to Him and it is not a root canal. He faces a terrible scourging at the hands of sadistic torturers. And no anaesthetic. He faces the searing agony of nails, large, square shafts of iron, hammered through His wrists and feet by brutal soldiers. And no anaesthetic..

He faces slow, terrifying suffocation, suspended in the raw heat of the day as His naked body fights for breath. And no sympathy, just cruel, mocking taunts.

Mercifully, few of us will have to endure anything like that, although that is not necessarily something for which we should rush to give thanks and we most certainly must at least be prepared to suffer so.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux said, The limit of our love for God should be to love Him without limit.

We cannot love God without limit if we place limits on what we are prepared to do for Him, what we are prepared to suffer for Him. And until we remove those limits we will remain afraid of what lies beyond them. Shackled with fear, we will never come fully alive and as such our lives will never reflect the Glory of God as they should. St. Irenaeus said, The glory of God is a man or a woman who is truly alive.

Ye shall drink indeed of My cup and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with.

Those words remove the limits. In accepting them and understanding them, we know what we may face because Jesus Christ is our example. What He endured was the extreme. The world cannot do any more to us than it did to Him.

But much more than that, it cannot do as much to us as it did to Him, because if we suffer for Him we know that He is with us. And if we die for Him we die in Him and that is a blessing, not a trial. It is a beginning, not an ending.

In this life, our readiness to suffer for Jesus and ultimately to die for Him is the most liberating choice we can make. We can only make it with God’s help, because even the thought of the Cross is too great a burden for most of us to bear alone.

Passion Sunday is a time to bring these things into focus; to think about what Jesus did for us, about what He asks of us and about what we ask from God. As we progress through the penitential season of Lent, we try to offer God real remorse over our sins, and we may then ask God to make us holy and good. That is a sound and valid request, but we would do well to consider the consequences of what we ask.

In Ecclesiastes, Ch.5:2 it is written, Be not rash with thy mouth and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God. What seriously sobering advice that is. It should give any of us pause for thought.

Are we ready to be sanctified by any method God in His wisdom may call on us to be put through? Do we trust Him enough to leave that to Him, accepting that He does what is best for us?

Are we ready to be purified through affliction? Is our faith strong enough that sickness, losses and sorrow will draw us nearer to God.

If we are not, Jesus may well say to us, Ye know not what ye ask.

Peter Jardine+
Lent V, 2006