One of the great population movements of history took place in the 19th century when, largely motivated by gold and the prospect of cheap land, thousands of Americans made the journey westwards from the East Coast of the United States into the unknown. There has been no shortage of Hollywood movies capturing the wagon trains and stagecoaches as they ventured across the vast unmapped plains.
Now, if you did travel by stagecoach there were three different categories of ticket – first, second and third class.
As always, the class of travel made all the difference. If you bought a first-class ticket, you retained the right to remain seated during the entire trip regardless of what happened. So, if the stagecoach got stuck in the mud, or if a wheel fell off or an axle broke, you could remain in your seat while the problem was fixed.
If you held a second-class ticket, when a problem developed you were simply required to get up and get off the coach until the problem was resolved.
But if you had a third-class ticket, you were required not only to get off the coach but to help fix the problem. The third class passenger had to push and pull a stuck wagon, help repair broken axles and wheels, even tend to the horses. A third class ticket might be cheap but you were the lowest of the low!
Nothing has really changed – we all want the upgrade! But, in striving for the upgrade we often forget that if we take seriously being a Christian, then we are all called to be third class passengers! Each one of us is required to get our hands dirty to make it work!
In today’s Gospel we hear about the two sons of Zebedee – James and John, who ask for places of honour and influence when Jesus begins his reign. Basically they want the upgrade! They don’t want to get their hands dirty or take any responsibility for anyone else. And in making their request they demonstrate that somehow they have missed what Jesus has been on about!
In response, Jesus gives them a lesson on power and how authority should be experienced among those who follow him – and those who choose to be his disciples today. Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. Service, unglamorous, mundane, unexciting service seems to be at the heart of Jesus’ lesson on ambition, authority and power.
Perhaps this weekend we are given a timely reminder to re-examine our relationships and how we interact with our colleagues, friends and those we love the most. We can’t be selective so it does require honesty to look at our motivations and identify who we treat with contempt and dismiss as lacking value. Like the third class passenger we are required to get our hands dirty. If all we are doing is looking for the upgrade then, like James and John in today’s Gospel, we’ve missed the point!
Wishing you and yours every blessing for the coming week
Fr Peter Brannelly