Do we ever truly know what we’re getting into? If young couples truly knew what pledges of lifelong fidelity require, would anyone marry? If humans truly knew what children demand of parents, would the species continue? If any of us truly knew how often grief is the final evidence of earthly love, would anyone choose to love?
Zebedee’s boys have no idea what they’re asking. Not that they weren’t warned. The verses immediately preceding today’s gospel are another prediction of Jesus suffering and death in Jerusalem. James and John must not have been paying attention. Perhaps they were thinking of the view from either side of the throne of glory.
By the shape of our lives, most of us make plain we prefer arriving at Easter without first negotiating Good Friday. Many of us imagine that, if we lived in another time, we’d help fleeing slaves along the Underground Railroad or hide Jews and gypsies from Nazi thugs. Nearly all of us imagine our good intentions are discernible, if not to others, then at least to God.
Most of us are fortunate not to have our mettle tested. Very few of us will drink the cup of martyrdom, struggle forthrightly against present darkness, or know if our efforts we think noblest will appear, with the perspective of years, virtuous and fruitful.
Certainty and perspective are not ours to enjoy. Instead, Jesus offers the gift of service to embody, share and pass on. This is all Christians can be sure of getting into: a life we hope resembles Jesus’.
In his book, Thoughts in Solitude, Thomas Merton offers this prayer:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
We don’t choose the road or its destination, but we can stumble in a direction we believe to be forward or let ourselves be led in trust. The rest is not up to us, nor ours to know.