The Lord upholds my life
James: 3:16- 4:3 Justice is the harvest of peacemakers sown in a spirit of peace.
Mark 9: 30-37 The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of humanity – all who wish to be first must make themselves the servants of all.
In the media, and at the butchers, hairdressers, supermarkets and dinner tables, we’ve been arguing the toss with each other about whose ambitions should have come out on top. Part of our own agenda in these arguments possibly centred around who we do and don’t admire, and whose rise to power or fall from grace suited our own ambitions best.
As St James points out in our second reading, so much of human ambition stems from something unfulfilled within ourselves. There is always something more that we are seeking that means that we can be in a constant state of longing. We’re never quite satisfied, never quite complete, never quite happy, or we are happy enough until something better comes along!
The world of advertising is built on an understanding of this human condition. Ads are designed to make us feel what we are missing out on. They are meant to make us feel unhappy with what we have now.
They are full of illusions, especially when they use words such as “ultimate”. We have in the past heard of “the ultimate in smoking pleasure”, and look where that got us! New cars are often described as the ultimate model. I’m often tempted to call up and ask why they are intending to produce no further models!
We really are a restless lot and unless we come to terms with this restlessness, we’ll never be truly happy. St Irenaeus, writing before the age of inclusive language, once noted: “Happy is the man who has stilled the lifelong battle going on in his own soul.”
Our gospel story today picks up this restlessness in the disciples of Jesus. They are a bit sheepish as Jesus asks them what they’ve been chatting about on the road, because they are aware that their ambitions are not really worthy of the mission to which Jesus is calling them. Jesus calls them forward from ambition to service and suggests that it is in learning to serve that one’s restless heart may find some sort of peace.
It’s easy to look at our politicians and point out their human shortcomings, their ambitions and their unworthiness. People like Alan Jones, Ray Hadley and Andrew Bolt have had a field day this week doing that very thing.
It’s easy to look at our Church and its leaders and do the same thing. At this time, there are forces within the Church, some people in seemingly high places who are working very hard to discredit and dismantle the direction that Pope Francis is trying to take the Church.
We can be dismayed by the Church’s politics, its displays of human ambition and its consequent infidelity to the gospel, and we can easily forget that the Church has been political centuries longer than any of our own Political Parties! We’re experts at it!!
Of course when Jesus turns his gaze on us in the Church, we lower our eyes, start saying our prayers and try to hide our ambitious conversations from him, just as the disciples did on the road that day.
Let’s turn our gaze inwards for a moment, and check the state of our own restless selves. In which areas of my life do I hear myself saying things such as: “If only I had…….;” or “Look at what he or she has and here am I still miles behind”. “I can’t wait till I can afford to……” and so on.
Then let Jesus look us in the eye and ask us what we have been talking and thinking about as we walked along with him. How would that conversation go? Would we be able to hear him call us beyond our restless ambitions to a place where a spirit of service is allowed to shape the way we live each day? What would it take to release ourselves from our slavery to our unfulfilled ambitions?
It’s worth recalling St Augustine’s over-used words of wisdom: “You have made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” The fact that we continue to gather here around the Lord’s table, tells us that we recognise the truth of Augustine’s words, that we recognise the struggle we all have to centre ourselves on Love, on God, and our need to remind ourselves where our true happiness and peace will be found.
Let’s pray for ourselves, for one another and for our restless world as we come to the Eucharist now. Let’s hold in our hearts all those people who are the victims of violence brought about by other people’s restless ambitions:
Victims of Domestic Violence
Victims of Sexual abuse
Victims of Emotional Abuse
Victims of war
People who have been driven from their homelands and are seeking refuge
Children who have become pawns in a battle between parents and their conflicting ambitions
The elderly whose very lives may be at risk because the ambitions of younger family members don’t include them anymore.
You can add your own experiences to this list.
We conclude with the words of St James:
“Wherever you find jealousy and ambition, you find disharmony and wicked things of every kind being done; whereas the wisdom that comes down from above is essentially something pure; it also makes for peace, and is kindly and considerate; it is full of compassion, and shows itself by doing good; nor is there any trace of partiality or hypocrisy in it. Peacemakers, when they work for peace, sow the seeds which will bear fruit in holiness.”
May James’ concluding words come to describe the way we are in the quiet of our own hearts, in our families and in our community.