With the onset of this Presidential Debate Season, questions of all kinds are being slung around out there! As one news commentator said recently, “we’ve finally arrived at that time in the campaign, the time when everything’s gone crazy – nothing quite adds up – but we still have to report it.”
At the Town Hall Debate, audience members asked questions to get information. The candidates, however, took to asking questions of each other, mainly to emphasize their own conclusions. The purpose might simply be to embarrass them, to deprive them of the power of feigning ignorance of the subject, or to provoke indignation. Questions, in the Town Hall format provided some great theater and rhetoric, but, I think we could say, had only a fleeting connection with providing information, or crafting solutions.
James and John only feign an opening question with Jesus, demanding actually, that Jesus do whatever they want! “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” They recognize that Jesus is on his way to being a king, though they’re a bit delusional about the kingdom! When the other disciples get wind of James and John’s wheeling and dealing with Jesus, they’re angry and jealous mostly that they didn’t think to ask for glory first!
Fr. Andrew Greely wrote a short tale about this story, set in our own times, that goes like this:
Once upon a time, a widow in her early 70s began thinking about moving from the big family home to a smaller, more manageable residence. One day when youngest daughter was visiting and began playing the piano, the mom told her that when she did move, this daughter could have the piano.
Now, when the other children heard this, they began to worry among themselves about how their mother would split up the family treasures. Several of them thought they should have been consulted about the piano. After all, they had children, who would like to have a piano.
Eventually, the widow got wind of her children’s concerns, and decided to face the issue head on. She called them together and told them, in a gentle way, that her things were hers to decide how she wanted them distributed. What she did with these things had nothing to do with her love for each of them, and she was disappointed that they felt that was the case. She had promised the piano to their youngest sister because she was the one who had been most dedicated to practice and seemed to love music. She hoped they knew that she loved each of them, and that they would not consider who got what of her things as, the sign, of her love.
After they left, the widow sadly wondered what more she had to do, to help her children know of her love for them.
It’s not a perfect analogy, and I’ll offer another in a moment. But what it does do well, I think, is reveal the power of God’s unconditional love for us. The widow is like God in that she loves all her children equally, even though the gifts we get in this life are not always equal. The widow is also like Jesus, in that she contemplates what else she has to do besides teaching us, to get the point across about loving one another. Jesus will do it, of course, by going to the cross.
What the story misses, I think, is the cocky confidence of James and John in demanding places of glory, one at his right hand and one at his left, and, just how that might be destructive for all of us, and unable to sustain the way of “the cup” that Jesus is talking about.
So, here’s another analogy. Not a fairly tale, but a chilling real life account of an economic two-some wanting earthly glory, Hubbard and Dudley, who co-wrote a study in 2004, about why the economy was doing, so well (sic). It was a defense, in part, against the concerns of people like Warren Buffet who had warned earlier that, “derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction, carrying dangers that, while now latent, are potentially lethal.” I’m quite sure Hubbard and Dudley could not endure – would be bewildered with – the question Jesus asks about the cup – if we could pose it to them. They would not be deterred from their pursuit of glory. Claiming their study was a neutral academic paper, they extolled the virtues of the housing bubble, that was destined to pop, and would come close to destroying the world’s economy, all the while pocketing millions in fees from the financial industry. They didn’t ask permission, they just demanded their own glory, and took it. Even today, long after the bubble burst, Hubbard continues to live off the fat of the bailed out banks and financial industry, in the form of consulting and research fees, as part of the 1%, and, indirectly at least, at tax payer expense – glory, glory, glory, all the time!
But what’s really incredible, in this tall tale of fact that is stranger than fiction, is that, the presidential candidate who extols his business savvy as the cure for our economy, has gone to Hubbard with a question: Could you please write my “…Program for Economic Recovery, Growth and Jobs?” In turn, Hubbard, is now named as the front-runner to be the next Treasury Secretary, should the Republicans win.
And, lest you think my aim is partisan, the tale continues, yet more bizarrely, for, the doors of glorious power swing open wide for both parties. Top advisors, republican and democratic, continuously flow unashamedly between their corporate and financial 1% jobs, and key government posts, demanding ever greater glory for themselves, unfortunately at our expense and the good of a functioning democracy. This same rush to glory, by insider corruption, lives comfortably within the current White House as well. Timothy Geithner, who the President hired as his Treasury Secretary, came straight out of his job as head of the New York Federal Reserve, saying that it took an insider to know how to handle the market crash. Geithner proceeded to lead the charge to rescue Goldman and other banks in the aftermath of the crisis, that they themselves had caused, instead of deregulating, breaking them up, or holding them accountable. And here’s the final twist in this “bipartisan spirit informing the banking bailout,” the person who filled Geithner’s position at the New York Fed was none other than Mr. Dudley, of Hubbard & Dudley! Back and forth they go, in their own self-glory, between Wall Street and the White House.
(see story published 10/19/2012 by http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/meet_romneys_economic_hit_man_20121018/ by Robert Scheer)
We want you to give us whatever we ask of you, James and John demanded – all the glory, without any of the pain or responsibility. “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them,” said Jesus. “…But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant…” And so, the tales of glory are ever new!
Of course, we all want success, and some money. We are all angry with, and maybe even a bit jealous of, the Hubbard’s, Dudley’s and Geithner’s, the James and John’s, of this world. This far along the way, we’ve come to understand a bit more of the dynamic of the 1% over against the 99% percent. We are coming to see that, power and glory will seek their own level. We can’t ignore that. Not everything is politics, of course, but most everything has a political dimension! It seems that we’re all either living within our entitlement, or scrambling to acquire the title to, enough to live on, and a piece of the pie. Now, if we can just get past the mad scramble, to want to get from one to the other, to demand seats at Jesus’ right and left hand in glory, this either-or that is tearing us apart!
Jesus has a third way. By now, there’s lots of names for it: sharing, non-violent resistance, salvation through grace, faith active in love. And Jesus’ question continues to point us back to the journey of the third way: “are we able to drink the cup that he drinks?” Before you answer… give it some thought!
One thing the cup does in the gospel story, is point us ahead to the Last Supper and the self-giving of Jesus’ life on the cross. Lifted up in his glory, Jesus was crucified with two criminals, one on his right hand and one on his left. The innocence of the crucified one, who was becoming a new kind of king, and his forgiveness of the repentant criminal at his right hand, signal our, pardon and freedom, which become tools for all – for a new life. This third way is the most powerful of all because it is connected to the realm of God, is growing like a tiny mustard seed into the largest of shrubberies, here and now. It doesn’t demand glory and power to dominate, or “lord it over” others. It doesn’t plunder and make the world serve us, but recognizes the abundance of God’s gifts – the overflowing cup – and through us, enacts the generous sharing, in service to others, that Jesus celebrated. This is the cup of holy communion, offered to us, which we drink at the table that is open to all. Come to the banquet, for all is now ready.