I always thought my mother was the person who formulated the saying, “Ask for it the right way or you’re not going to get it.” I see in the Scriptures today that James beat her to it. They both had the same message, however. James makes it clear that we had better know what we are asking for and then ask for it in the right way. If the request is all about me – me – me, we will have a long wait for a positive response. Our Scriptures today call us to a single mindedness in making our requests.
James reflects on the tragedy of our splitting ourselves into two minds. The one mind knows God, hears the call to holiness and righteousness and makes choices in a manner that leaves self behind and focuses energy on moving into a closer identification with the mind of God. At the same time, James says, we sometimes are wrapped up in self so intensely that self and what we are able to gain from the world becomes the object of our energies. This mindset is at odds with the first mindset focused on the Lord which leads to internal wars, conflicts and hostilities that become reflected in our relationships with God and one another. Recognizing this, James laments we are in danger of becoming people “… of two minds.” Our only remedy is repentance which cures our double mindedness and returns us to people with a single minded focus on walking gently with our God.
Saint Mark allows us to listen in while Jesus confronts the double-mindedness of his disciples. They are well into their three year walk with Jesus. Yes, they recognize Jesus as sent by God. Yes, they see that Jesus has brought the grace of the Kingdom of God to everyone, especially the sick, oppressed, marginalized, sinners, and lowly ones. Yes, they even entertain hope against hope that Jesus is the Savior. At the same time, they find themselves reaching out for a piece of the action. Their other mindedness is looking for earthly power, glory, and adulation. They wonder and argue aloud with each other about whether their importance will be recognized, appreciated and acclaimed. In today’s gospel, they are caught hedging their bets, looking in both directions at once. In the words of James, they are experiencing internal wars, conflicts and hostilities which are playing out in their interactions with each other. At this moment, Jesus introduces the “child”. Jesus assures them that if they receive a child in His name, they receive not only Him but the One who sent Him. This doesn’t sound so strange to our ears but try to imagine hearing this for the first time in Galilee at that time. A child had no rights. A child was considered the property of a parent in the same way that a parent owned a beast of burden or a table or a water jar. A child had little societal significance. When Jesus tells his disciples if they wish to be first, they must be the last of all and the servant of all and then places the child in their midst, he is calling them back to single mindedness. He is telling them to stop thinking of themselves. He is telling them that discipleship necessarily entails a single minded focus on reaching out to the lowly, the insignificant, the marginalized, the despised, the oppressed and, yes, to sinners, even unrepentant sinners in the name of Jesus.
This will be the sure sign that a person has chosen a single minded, single hearted manner of living his or her life. Perhaps our Scripture today calls us to quell any warring factions within ourselves. End the internal hostilities and fighting and regain a single minded focus on living the characteristics of discipleship enjoined upon the followers of Jesus by St. James and St. Mark today. The grace and strength to live this single mindedness – this is the right request, asked in the right way.
Fr. Richard Burke, CP, is a member of St. Paul of the Cross Province. He lives at St. Ann’s Monastery in Scranton, Pennsylvania.