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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - Do You Really Want What God Wants?

Robert Barron - Do You Really Want What God Wants?

Robert Barron - Do You Really Want What God Wants?
TOPICS: God's will

Peace be with you. Friends, I love the Gospel for this weekend because it's so challenging. And I'll tell you the truth, this Gospel often comes to my mind when I'm doing my holy hour in the morning, and I'll tell you why. In those moments, when I look at the Lord, I say, "Lord, please give me what I want". And I think we all fall in that habit in prayer. "Just give me what I'm asking for". Here's why I think of this Gospel. We hear James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you".

Now, may I suggest, we are in, right off the bat here, very bad spiritual space. That's why I think of this when I move into bad spiritual space, when we start telling God, "here's what you need to do for me". So ipso facto, you're in a bad place when you're praying that way. The proper biblical attitude is always, "Speak, Lord. I'm listening". It's always, "not my will, but your will be done". Or, what I do when I catch myself saying, "Lord, please give me what I want," is I try constantly to change it to, "Lord, please give me what you want for me". See, James and John here are in bad space because they're saying our egos are the criterion. Our egos are determining here what's good and bad. And so give us what we want. Real prayer, the real spiritual life, is always about a de-centering, off of the ego onto God. Not about us, it's about God.

Now Jesus indulges them, like okay, tell me what you are demanding that I do for you. And they say, "Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left". Okay. Now within their Jewish framework, it makes some sense. They're at this point convinced Jesus is the Messiah. And so the Messiah is meant to be the king who's going to reign over the twelve tribes of Israel. And then by extension, he'll be the Lord of all the nations. That's their expectation. And so they're just saying, "Hey Lord, when you come into this glorious state, could we be at your right and your left as your kind of prime ministers"? They want, in a word, power and honor.

Okay. Are power and honor in themselves bad things? No. Look at power, first of all. We say God's all-powerful. So I mean, power can't be in itself a bad thing. And then think of anyone in human history who's ever accomplished something impressively for the good. They are people that to some degree had the reins of power, because power just means the capacity to make things happen. I can make things happen if I have sufficient power. Well, that's true of all the good things that have happened. I mean, just think of Abraham Lincoln, one of my great heroes. I mean, made all kinds of good things happen, including freeing the enslaved. Would have meant Lincoln had to seize the reins of power at some point. He had to get involved in kind of grubby Illinois politics. And he had to, to some degree, kind of get down and dirty and all that.

Okay. But he needed the reins of power to affect certain goods. Churchill had to work his way through the complexity of the British political system to come finally to the top of the greasy pole so at a key moment in human history, he could have the reins of power. Thank God. Thank God. He held off this Nazi tyranny and saved Western civilization. Well, that's because he was a person of power. Look in the more spiritual order too. Don't think for a second that Mother Teresa didn't have power and didn't know it, and didn't know how to use it. Anyone that knew Mother Teresa, I never knew her personally, but I know several people that did and had dealings with her. She was well aware of the fact that precisely as this deeply honored figure, she had a lot of power. She could make things happen. And she didn't hesitate to use her spiritual power to convince cardinals and archbishops and popes to get things done.

Look at a Mother Cabrini, another hero of mine, a great saint. Little lady, but boy was she powerful, and she knew it. And she got things done because of it. Maybe the best example in our time, John Paul II. He didn't have tanks and armies, but by God, he had power. When he comes to Poland in 1979 and he gives that famous speech in Victory square, and he inspired the people to chant, "we want God, we want God," for fifteen minutes. He was, and he knew it, he knew what he was doing. He was using his power to effect a great good. In fact, the fall of the Soviet Union, the breakup of the Communist empire in that part of the world without a shot being fired, was because of this very spiritually powerful man.

My point again is power is not in itself a bad thing. Even asking God for power, not bad in itself, but we got to see, there's a caution. Now you might say James and John are looking for power. We want to be at your right and left. And they're also looking for honor. That's a deep desire of the human heart, is to be honored, to be thought highly of, to have title and prerogative and position. For people to say, "Ah, look at that guy. Oh, the title that he has". Honor. Is honor itself a bad thing? Well, no. I mean, we say God is honored. We honor the saints. We honor especially the Blessed Mother. Thomas Aquinas put it this way: "Honor is the flag of virtue".

With typical Thomistic pith he expresses that. There's a great virtue, a great good; well, I'm going to put a flag on it. I'm going to honor that person, so I draw attention to that person's virtue. Good. Nothing wrong with that. God is honored. The saints are honored. The Blessed Mother is honored. What's the problem? Now, here we come to the neuralgic point. When I ask for these things in the wrong way and according to the wrong spirit, I wreak havoc. The trouble here with James and John is not so much what they're asking for, it's the spirit in which they're asking for it. Lord, give us what we want. In other words, their egos are now the criterion. Oh, give me power that my ego might be aggrandized. Oh, give me honor that my ego might be puffed up.

Now we got serious trouble, and I mean serious trouble. Look up and down the centuries. I mean, look through the history books, look in the great literature of the world. What do we find? Loads and loads of examples of people who sought power in the wrong way for the wrong reasons. And they in very short order produced chaos around themselves and you see why. They were exercising power not out of love, not for the sake of the good, not from the standpoint of wisdom. Remember the homily from last week. Rather they were exercising power from the standpoint of ego and for the sake of the ego.

Now you got figures from Julius Caesar and Herod to Napoleon and Stalin and Pol Pot. The havoc these figures wreaked around themselves from the abuse of power, seeking it in the wrong way and for the wrong purposes. Think of characters in literature; Macbeth is an example of someone. I think even more than power Macbeth wanted honor. To be a king. "These witches have predicted I'll become king and it's coming true, and if I were king... The havoc he wreaks in that play, the destruction to his own soul and then to the lives of people around him, because once you've got that bug in you, you got that gnawing hunger in you to be honored, you'll stop at nothing.

Now, fellow sinners, you know what I'm talking about. Macbeth and people at the high level, but all of us fall in this temptation. Oh, to get that position, to get that title, I'll gossip, I'll destroy reputations, I'll use and manipulate people. I'll do damage all around myself out of this hunger and thirst for honor. Honor for the sake of God, terrific. Ignatius of Loyola's famous adage "ad maiorem Dei gloriam", to the greater glory of God. Terrific. "Hey Lord, give me what I want. I want your honor".

Terrific. Off you go. Be as bold as you want. "Lord, give me power that I might effect your will in the world". Terrific. Wonderful. Off you go. Ask for it all you want. But don't come to Jesus saying, "Lord, we want you to give us whatever we are asking for". Ipso facto, you're in a bad and dangerous spiritual space. You know, in other tellings of this story in the Gospels, this is where Jesus introduces the young child. "Unless you change and become like one of these, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven". Power, honor, eschew those. If you're addicted to them, and that's what can happen to us sinners, if you're addicted to them, it's like someone addicted to alcohol. You can't fool around with that. You need to stop like now.

That's what he's saying with the introduction of a child. If you're preoccupied with your power and your honor, no, no, no. You need cold turkey. You need to break from those addictions. The saints, sure, they know what to do with power and honor. That's okay. They know what to do, but look, most of us aren't saints. And so as an opening move, Jesus says you need to break your preoccupation with these two things. Become like a child willing to be commanded. Can I point to a supreme irony? Oh and the Gospel writer wanted us to see this. What do they ask for? "We want to be at your right and your left when you come into your glory".

As I said, that was in line with Jewish expectations, that he'd be the king of Israel and they'd be his prime ministers. Ah, but in the delicious irony of the Gospel. When does Jesus come into his glory? On the cross, where he wears a crown of thorns and over his head is placed a sign: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. Ah, that's what they were anticipating. And it came true. He was indeed the King of the Jews, but he was reigning from an instrument of torture. And the crown he was wearing was a crown of thorns. And everybody who at that moment, when he came into his glory, was at his right and his left, the two criminals crucified with him.

See, now that's the solution to this whole problem. Do you want power and honor? Good, great, ask for them. As long as you want them on Jesus' terms, not yours. Because the kind of power and the kind of honor he's going to give you, don't look to worldly examples. Look rather to those two figures who were indeed on his right and his left when he came into his glory. And God bless you.
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