St Stephen/year B/29th Sunday/October 20th 1991 


Do you remember the old saying "God is easy to please but hard to  satisfy"?  

Because that truth is so important, yet so little  understood  by those who seldom or never set foot inside a church;  and  because even some of those who do come to church  often  have  failed  to grasp the truth for themselves or understand  what  it  means  in practical terms, I thought it would be an idea to look at it more  closely today

"God is easy to please but hard to satisfy"

Jesus' apostles, the brothers James and John were what you  might call "ambitious young men". In the gospel according to St Mark we  hear of them going to Jesus and brazenly asking him to give  them the Top Places in his Kingdom. And if that isn't being ambitious,  I don't know what is. "Please God, I want to be top dog" But Jesus reply to these two enterprising young men was neither a  flat refusal (he didn't just say NO!) nor yet a  telling-off  for being ambitious; it was the other disciples you may remember  who were indignant about the whole thing.

Jesus' reply was in two parts. "I don't think you understand what  you're asking for", he said; and then he added  "are  you  really prepared to go through with the sort of suffering which being  my disciples may entail? And even if  you  are  prepared  to  suffer alongside me, you can't expect my heavenly Father to make all his  ideas turn around your own personal  ambitions.  The  Kingdom  of Heaven just doesn't work like that. There's a good many surprises  in store for you about who will really be at the top." Jesus, I think, was really rather pleased with the  ambitiousness of James and John. For ambition is no more to be regretted  in  a young person than the fact that they have grown up.  As those of you who are parents will know, to have  a  child  who seems to have no ambitions, no will to achieve anything  in  life can be a great distress; and by the  same  token  a  child  whose parents have no ambitious or hopes or expectation for him is  for that child to get off to a very bad start in life, so bad  indeed that some people never recover from it. They remain what  psychologists call "habitual under-achievers" and are,  in  fact,  quite seriously damaged people emotionally.

So ambition in itself is a good thing, and to be a child  of  God and have ambitions is, in the eyes of our heavenly  Father,  some thing with which he is "well pleased"

But ambition on its own is not  enough.  No  father,  earthly  or heavenly is going to be satisfied with  the  fact  that  his  son merely "has ambitions". He needs to know that these ambitions are  both worthwhile and achievable

If his child sets their sights too low then any satisfaction  the achievement of them may give will be pretty short-lived

if they set their sight too unrealistically high, then  they  may give up trying when they find it's beyond them

A wise parent will seek to guide their child between  the  levels of the unworthy and the unattainable ambitions: between  what  is altogether too easy and altogether too difficult, bearing in mind  of course that the occasional setback or disappointment over  the failure to achieve a goal which was slightly unrealistically high  never did anyone permanent harm. Indeed such  an  experience  can act as a spur to "having another go" and getting  it  right  next time. Always to be successful first time in life is to  miss  out on one of its most important lessons, namely  "If  at  first  you don't succeed, try, try again"

Being a disciple means, literally,  being  a  "learner". In  other words, as disciples of Jesus we never quite  get  rid  of  our  L plates. The Christian who thinks he's got nothing left to  learn is sooner or later going to be in for a rude shock. The disciples  were always at first forgetting what Jesus had taught them

For the path which god the Father had mapped out for God the Son,  Jesus Christ, was the road of  the  Suffering  Servant,  foreseen many years before the Incarnation by the prophet Isaiah. "By  his sufferings shall my righteous servant  put  many  people  on  the right road to salvation, taking their faults on himself"

The whole scheme of God's redemptive purpose takes in the process  of suffering: suffering himself in Jesus Christ, and inviting his  disciples to share his cup of suffering themselves

That, if you like, is the nearest we ever get to an answer to the  question so many people ask "Why does God allow suffering?" The answer of course is that we don't know; but we do  know  that he willingly took it upon himself, because it was  both  his  and his Father's ambition for him that he should do so. All suffering  accepted in the course of serving the Living God is  a  sacrifice acceptable to him

And in Jesus, as the writer to the Hebrews said, we have  a  high priest who is capable of feeling our weaknesses with us,  tempted at all points like us though  without  sin;  someone  who  learnt obedience through what he had to suffer

Our ambition as the adopted sons and  daughter  of  the  heavenly Father must be, in the end, to fulfil his will for us in the  way in which Jesus Christ does and did. That process is almost  bound to involve hardship and suffering somewhere down the line

The particular form that sonship or discipleship will  take  will be different for each one of us, and the suffering which  we  are asked to bear will be different, too. But then we are all  different, and it is only to be expected that an all-wise,  all  loving Father will have different ambitions for each  one  of  his  children

As those who have, like Jesus, James, and John did, embraced  the Father's ambitions for us we shall be able, as the writer to  the Hebrews says, to be "confident in approaching the throne of grace that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we  are  in need of help

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