A seat at the heavenly banquet

    February 28, 2024

    As a parent, I can relate to the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, in today’s gospel when she asks Jesus if her sons might sit beside him in the Kingdom of Heaven. I always want the best for my child, too — the best friends, the best teachers, and, when applicable, the best seat!

    Before posing her important question, the mother “approached Jesus with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something.” Was the act of homage a sincere expression of her devotion or just an attempt to butter Jesus up to grant her request? The mother’s actions might seem a little suspect, but we can certainly relate. How many times in our own lives have we prayed, “I did THAT for you, Lord, now will you please do THIS for me?”

    During these 40 days of prayer, abstinence and almsgiving, we may be tempted to bargain with God, elevated by our good deeds and devout observance of this holy and sacred time. After all, our faithfulness to our Lenten practices deserves some kind of reward in the here-and-now, right?

    Jesus reminds us, however, that bargaining will get us nowhere, during Lent or any other season. His response to the grumbling disciples following the interaction with James and John’s mother is non-negotiable: “whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant.” We hear a few times in the gospels that the last shall be first and the first shall be last, so this is obviously an important lesson that Jesus wishes to impress upon us. If James and John want to vie for those coveted places on Jesus’s right and left sides, they must put the needs of others before their own. The instructions for salvation are straightforward.

    The measure of how we will be judged is dependent upon our relationships with others. If we assume a servant’s role in this life by feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, visiting the imprisoned, caring for the sick and welcoming the stranger, then our efforts may lead us to an honorable seat at the heavenly banquet.

    Rachel Hrbolich is Diocesan Director of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Youngstown, OH.  She also serves as the Diocesan Liaison with Catholic Health Care and Long-Term Care, and Diocesan Liaison with St. Vincent de Paul Societies.

    Sign up to receive CCUSA’s prayers and reflections in your inbox.