Alcoholics Anonymous have some wonderful slogans – One day at a time; Keep it simple: Nothing changes if nothing changes. A personal favourite is “Denial is not just a river in Egypt”. What a capacity for denial we humans have, the ability not to see what we don’t want to see. We think that if we ignore something for long enough, somehow it will go away.
Today’s gospel is a classic. The disciples arguing about who will get the top jobs when Jesus throws everything upside down. On this journey, three times already, Jesus has told them they are gong to Jerusalem, where he will be arrested, tortured and killed. He has told them repeatedly that following him involves the Cross. They are just a few days away from Calvary. The power of Rome is everywhere. The hatred of the Pharisees, the Temple police, and the Establishment is all around them. They are being spied on and plotted against. And, somehow, still they think in a few days time, they will be living in luxury, sitting on the thrones and running the country. They think Jesus on his donkey is going to work miracles.
Sadly, they got it so wrong, as they scrambled and fought to get as far away from Gethsemane and Calvary as they could, leaving Jesus to his fate. Strangely though, they got it right. This man on his donkey has changed and is still changing the world. And they did get the seats of glory, – on a cross upside down for Peter, on a cross shaped like a giant X for St Andrew, beheaded on an executioner’s block for Paul, skinned alive for Bartholomew, thrown from the pinnacle of the temple for James, beaten to death for Sion, impaled on spears for Jude – and that story continues to the present day.
The disciples following Jesus up to Jerusalem were in denial, but, eventually, they got it right. Because even after they got it so wrong, Jesus came back, picked them up and helped them start again. We too can get things so wrong in our lives. And make such a god-awful mess of them. But one day, we will get it right, because no matter how often we get it wrong, Jesus will never give up on us, never!
Fr Tom McDonough is the current provincial superior of Holy Spirit province.