Suffering #3: We’re guaranteed it! by Robynn
Entitlement is an interesting and pervasive attitude these days. I deserve to feel good about myself. I deserve wealth. I deserve happiness. I deserve respect. I deserve a massage, a night out, another drink, a bowl of ice cream, a raise at work, an easier life.
Jesus had an opinion about this idea of entitlement. There were two brothers –friends of his, part of his close circle, men who had heard him teach, men who had hung out with him– who approached Jesus with a simple request. Could he do them a favour? When everything settles down and, Jesus, you are sitting on your glorious throne, if it wouldn’t be too much to ask, could we please sit on either side of you? One on your left, one on your right? We can sort out who sits on which side later….but could we? Please?
I can imagine Jesus just shaking his head when he replies, You don’t have a clue what you’re asking.
Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with? (Mark 10:38)
It’s easy, as a reader of this story, to be pretty hard on these two blokes! Who did they think they were? Had they been listening at all when Jesus taught on humility and the hard road? They had seen him up close. They’d been camping with him. They’d gone out for drinks with him. They followed him and watched while he healed kindly, when he welcomed little children.
But maybe they were a little like me.
I once met with Father Albert at Conception Abbey for spiritual direction. I was on a three day retreat and I had signed up to meet with a director. Lowell and I were at a cross roads. I needed guidance. During our time together, tucked into the middle of the conversation about mothering and gifting and ambition, I admitted, “Father Albert, I want to be famous!” He threw back his head and guffawed. Apparently no one had ever said that out loud to him before.
If that comment was written in the gospels, readers would judge me. They’d read it with an obnoxious tone of voice. They’d roll their eyes and mumble, Who does she think she is? What does she have to offer? How on earth would she ever be famous?
But what the reader wouldn’t know is my heart in it. I wasn’t motivated by fame and the quest to be a celebrity. I longed to use my gifts, to teach publicly, to call groups of people to Jesus. And doing that to large crowds seemed somehow more efficient. As ignoble as it sounds, and really is at a deep level, I thought I would like to be famous. It was ridiculous then when I said it and it’s even more ridiculous now looking back on it. I’ll never be that. Nor do I want that any more.
My point is it’s easy to judge these two brothers. Jesus doesn’t. He does highlight their naiveté. They don’t know what they are asking. He can’t commit those two chairs to them. It doesn’t work that way. They aren’t entitled to them. The only thing he can guarantee is that they will suffer. The only thing they are entitled to is the “bitter cup of suffering”.
Several weeks ago I wrote a piece on longings. The Jesus story I cited was one that comes right after this particular one in the St Mark’s gospel. Bartimaeus the blind man, when Jesus asks him what can I do for you, responds, I want to see. Here when Jesus asks the two brothers what can I do for you, they ask for positions or roles. It’s an intriguing contrast. The blind man wants to see. The brothers want to get ahead. Jesus loves to give sight to the blind. Bartimaeus walks away seeing. Jesus doesn’t work in the advancement department. He doesn’t promote or demote. The only thing he guarantees is suffering, pain, agony.
The kingdom of God turns everything upside down. You want an exemption? You want to be removed from the circus and given an honorable place to sit down? Sorry…that doesn’t happen. Jesus goes on to further articulate. Kingdom rules for advanced placement include suffering. Kingdom rules for leadership include serving. Kingdom rules for being first include being last. Kingdom rules for getting good service include attending to others. Kingdom rules for the good life mean laying down your life, dying to yourself.
These two brothers were Jesus’ friends. He wasn’t being harsh or unkind when he promised them suffering. He was speaking to their reality. They would surely suffer. And he would be with them in it, And lo, I am with you always. As would the Holy Comforter be, whom he would later send.
As horrendous as this sounds, we are all entitled….to suffering. I’m not saying that we deserve to suffer. Heaven forbid! This is not the life we were created for! But I am saying there are no other true guarantees in life. We will suffer, every one of us. Suffering will happen. But we do not need to suffer alone. The Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief, joins us in our pain. He waits for us there, quietly, in the hallways of hardship ready to carry our burdens.