In spite of what we hear about them in the gospel today James and John were loyal disciples. They probably would have done anything Our Lord asked of them. But in a sense they were clueless about what he was really about. Their request to sit beside him in heaven shows the degree to which their values were still influenced by the world around them. Their intentions were good, but they still had a lot to learn about being servants of God.
And it wasn’t only James and John who had this problem. The other disciples were angry at them, probably because they also wanted to be where the action was. But Our Lord didn’t reprove them; instead he took the opportunity to teach them about the nature of his kingdom: whoever wants to follow him must forget about being important in the eyes of the world. The one who wants to be first must learn to be last.
Every year during Lent, we have the opportunity to re-learn this lesson. It’s a chance for us to re-focus our gaze on Christ and to sharpen our resolve to no longer live for ourselves but for him. We may be like James and John: wanting to get closer to God and meaning well, but still needing to learn the Way of the Cross that Jesus walked. It’s not a bad thing to want to sit next to Our Lord. But if we want to reign with him in glory, we first need to learn how to die with him by turning from sin and embracing his life of trust and obedience to the Father.
At its heart, Lent is not so much about fasting, saying extra prayers, or performing good deeds. These are only the means to the greater end, which is developing a deeper relationship with God. Our Lord fixed his eyes on the Cross, and he invites us to do the same. He knows that as we do, untold blessings will flow into our lives: unbounded joy; peace in times of stress; freedom from sins; and best of all, the closest of relationships with God himself.