There’s a funny scene near the end of the movie “Chocolat”.
The previously strict, restrained and pious mayor of a little French town finally gives in to his secret yet overpowering craving – chocolate.
In the town’s chocolate store, he literally dives into a large display of chocolate candies.
Eagerly and unrestrained, he stuffs his mouth full of a whole assortment of delectable chocolate delights, getting chocolate all over his face, unabashedly satisfying his chocolate cravings.
Human nature being what it is, we all struggle, to different degrees, with always wanting more.
I know my own children love to tease me with this rumour that I’m known to “finish off a whole 2 litre bucket of Chapman’s Cappuccino Flavoured Frozen Yogurt” every night while watching the news on TV.
For the record, that only happened once, years ago.
These days, it’s only a bowl of ice-cream… almost every night….
What is it about human nature that doesn’t want to rest content with what is already good, what is already enough? What is it about human nature that makes it so hard for us to be still, to be grateful for what is, to appreciate the good blessings of the simple ordinary situations and pleasures of life?
The words of Ronald Rolheiser in his book The Shattered Lantern recently grabbed my attention: “Our lives become consumed with the idea that unless we somehow experience everything, travel everywhere, see everything, and are part of a large number of other people’s experience, then our own lives are small and meaningless. We become impatient with every hunger, every ache…and we become convinced that unless every pleasure we yearn for is tasted, we will be unhappy…an obsessive restlessness leaves us unable to rest or be satisfied because we are convinced that all lack, all tension, and all unfulfilled yearnings, is tragic…”
We’re like the sons of Zebedee in the Gospel passage. James and John ask Jesus if he could do whatever they ask him, and when Jesus asks what that might be, they say, “Make us sit at your right hand and left hand in your glory” meaning something like: “Make us just as powerful as you are.”
For James and John, following and learning from Jesus wasn’t enough. They wanted more. They wanted to rule alongside Jesus. They wanted a share of his power. They wanted it all.
We too live life craving for more and more, the best of the lot, the top spot, the place of recognition. We want the best reputations, jobs, salaries. We want a lot of things we might never want to admit out loud.
Jesus’ response, a kind of push-back against their request, his talk about “drinking the cup that he drinks” and “being baptized with the baptism that he himself was baptized” is about entering the way of Jesus, which is the way of the cross – taking up the cross and following Jesus. Think of Jesus’ short 32 year old life. He did not end up, at the end of all his life and ministry on some glorious throne, reigning from on high. No. He ended up on a cross, hanging and dying where criminals die.
Christ’s reign, his leadership, his kingdom, is not about, as Jesus puts it, “lording” it over others, having a hierarchical, top-down, brute power over others in an oppressive or dictatorial way. And seeking and striving for that model of reigning.
No, his reign, is about servant-hood, about serving others. Jesus came to serve. And we, as followers of this Jesus are called to do the same, in our own time, in our own generation, and in our own place. Even in our vulnerability. In our brokenness and need of grace.
And you know, after the Resurrection, both James and John eventually, with the power of God’s Spirit, discovered a new-found commitment to the mission and ministry of Jesus. They committed themselves to serve God and serve others. We can read about the amazing stories of the lives of service in the book of Acts.
So devoted to Jesus were they, that James, in fact became the first martyr among the 12 apostles, executed by King Herod for preaching the Gospel. John, although not martyred, lived a long, yet difficult life of service – at one point being exiled alone to the Greek island of Patmos where he was believed to see visions of God, and write the book of Revelation that we have in the New Testament.
For two thousand years thereafter, followers of Jesus have found a meaning, a joy and an energy, in seeing all of life as an opportunity for service to others….to one’s spouse…to one’s children…service to the community… to the people in the neighbourhood… to the people living around them.
I like how Mahatma Ghandi put it: “The best way to `find’ yourself, is to ‘lose’ yourself in the service of others.”
Are we looking where to find happiness in life? Are we looking for how we can arrive at a level of contentment about things so that we no longer feel as though driven by restless waves of discontent, casting about for that “quick fix” for all our struggles, a “quick road” to happiness?
Something very simple, yet deeply meaningful, is answering the call of Jesus to be a servant to others – something which can bring deep meaning and joy to our lives. Even though it may not be easy.
Anglican priest Jerome Berryman, in his book, shared a very personal thing about himself and his wife Thea, at the time of Thea’s funeral, when she died.
He spoke of how they stuck together through happy and difficult times, with an enduring love.
Jerome recalled meeting her for the first time in 1960, when his life “suddenly went from shades of brown, to intense colours.”
He said he kept “falling in love” with her ever since that day, and “walked together through much sadness and happiness since then.”
They were hikers, and when they were younger, they made a memorable hike over the “Great Divide”, the continental divide in Colorado, a journey of some 40 kms over the high mountains.
Now, as older couple, and recalling the more recent years of Thea’s very painful and difficult mobility challenges where she completely depended on Jerome to climb the steps in their house, he said that just like enjoying their hikes and climbing together in their younger years, so too, as older people, they now together “climbed up and down the stairs in their own house – a challenge that was much tougher.”
Being together in that adventure, he said, and serving each other, was enough “to bring great joy.”
The way of Jesus, the way of servant-hood, is not always a pain-free path of constant, uninterrupted happiness. In truth, it necessarily leads to times of deep sadness and suffering.
But even in serving others, there Christ is, there joy is surprisingly, unexpectedly found.