Psalm 33:4-5, 18-20, 22
Jesus is once again reflecting in the Gospel today the reality of objective truth, that there is just this truth about who is going to sit in his right and who is going to sit on his left and he cannot just change that. This is a struggle that we have: objective truth. There is something that is good and something that is bad, and it is difficult for us to do what is good and is difficult for us to not do what is bad. What are we supposed to do about that? Our first inclination is that God should change the truth. He should change what is good and change what is bad so it fits us better, but we know that will not work because we know that what is good is good. Even things like loving each other, helping each other, serving each other: these are difficult too. It is not just that we have some disagreement with God about what morality should be. We actually have difficulty following the morality that we ourselves know to be right, so that even if we know that such and such a thing is objectively good, we cannot do it. Who would argue that we should not serve the poor? Yet how difficult it is to serve the poor, to forget ourselves, to stop being consumed by this culture of consumerism!
The solution to this problem we have where we know what is good but we do not want to do it, is provided for us in the Psalm today. As we repeated over and over, “Lord let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.” This is a beautiful refrain. It sums up everything we need to know about our relationship with God. We have God's relationship with us; we have our relationship to God. The situation is what it is. The truth is the truth and cannot be changed, and we are not very good at following it. God loves us, and he wants us to be with him forever in heaven, so, for his part, he is going to be merciful. “Lord let your mercy be on us.” God is going to do that. I am not going to preach to God here today about being merciful, so we will just let him do that.
The second part is about us, “as we place our trust in you.” That has been the problem since the beginning: trusting in God. All the way back in the beginning, that is what the problem with the fruit was about. God said not to eat it, but Adam and Eve did not trust this command of God. They did not understand the command, so they decided not to obey. What they could have done is just trust. Eve hears that snake talking and decides to trust it instead. Anybody other than God we will trust. We will trust the people on the TV. We will trust politicians. We will trust whatever we happen to be thinking at any given moment. Anybody but God, we will trust. There is something wrong with that. We know there is. Somehow the one being we cannot trust, is the one who loves us perfectly.
If you are looking for someone to trust, what more should you look for than God? He is all-powerful, which means that no one will ever be able to stop him from fulfilling his promises. He is all knowing, which means that he never makes a mistake; he never does anything accidentally; he knows what he is doing; he knows the consequences, now and 2 trillion years from now; he knows what he is doing. Last of all, he loves us. He loves us so much that he died for us, as our first reading says in that interesting prophecy about the coming of Christ, “The Lord was pleased to crush him in infirmity, if he gives his life as an offering for sin” which, when that prophecy was given, who could have imagined how that would be fulfilled? That Jesus Christ would come and live and die for us.
Now, finally we have the proof that we can really trust God. That was the only thing that maybe was left. We know that God can do what he says is going to do, and we know that God knows the right way to do things. Those are both part of the essence of being God, but that last question remains, whose side is he really on? That question was in Eve’s mind, as she was looking at that tree. She remembered that God said not to eat it, but then she wondered, “Whose side is he on? Maybe he is just trying to keep me from becoming as smart and powerful as him?”
That the problem that is faced by James and John in the Gospel today. I am amazed by this question. They go to Jesus and ask him to trust them. They say, “Teacher we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” This is a loaded question. They cannot even say what it is yet, but they ask Jesus to trust them, and blindly promise to do whatever they ask. Jesus is not going to fall for that. It actually should be the other way around. God should come up to us and say to us, “I want you to do whatever I ask of you.” He does say that. God comes up to us, and he says, “I want you to do whatever I ask of you.” We are afraid. We do not want to trust that question. We think, “What if he asks something bad?” Of course, he will not. He is God. He knows what he is talking about. “I want you to do whatever I ask of you.” What if he asks us to do something that is bad for us? Whose side is he really on? He died for us. He is on our side. He is not going to use of us. He is not going to have us do something bad for us and then throw us away. He loves us, and not just in a group, not just collectively: he loves us individually, every single one of us. When someone who loves you like that comes up to you and says, “I want you to do whatever I ask of you”, your answer has to be yes. Not just because were afraid of him; not just because he is God so I better do it; but because we know that whatever he asks of us is going to be better than anything we could ever imagine for ourselves. When James and John ask to sit beside Jesus in the kingdom, they are really asking for love and respect. Jesus denied their request and then gave them everything they ever wanted.