Homily: Ambition

Today we celebrate the feast of our parish, patron saint, St. James the Apostle, so, happy Feast Day to you all! The actual date is July 25th. And, before anything else, let us take a moment for silent prayer for all those killed and injured and their families in the terrible train wreck in Spain three days ago in Compostela, Spain, who were going to the celebration for St. James at the great shrine there. (pause)

Our story from Matthew’s gospel tells us the mother of James and John went to Jesus to ask for special treatment for her sons James and John when Kingdom is established. In Mark’s gospel, an earlier version says that James and John went directly to Jesus themselves. It’s not clear why Matthew adds the mother. Perhaps he is making an allusion to the Old Testament when Bathsheba went seeking the kingdom for her son Solomon. In any case, it seems it was the brothers, Boanerges, as they were called, Sons of Thunder, who came to Jesus themselves to ask for special treatment.

How startlingly ambitious these two outgoing young men appear here. Why were they so brazen and forthright in seeking  higher positions? Perhaps it was their intense desire as members of the Zealot party, as history tells us, so eager to overthrow the Roman conquerors of Israel. Maybe it was their utmost wish to offer their services so completely to the building of the Kingdom. But it seems on the surface to have been ambition, pure and simple, that drove them to this most audacious act.

There is nothing wrong with ambition in itself. It is an admirable virtue, an attempt to make the best of whatever situation we might find ourselves in. It the case of James and John, however, Jesus tells them they will be called to even greater heights, ultimately to give their lives in martyrdom for the sake of the Kingdom. James, in fact, we are told was the first of the apostles to be martyred.  Little did they know to what great stature and dignity they were to be called.

I want to take this opportunity to ask you: What are your ambitions for yourself for this gift of Life that is yours? What do you hope to achieve? You may think ambition is only for the young, for those with ideals, for those whom life has not weathered and bruised. You have ambitions for your children and grandchildren, of course. But whatever our age, there is need for ambition, and an ambitious outlook on what one can yet achieve.

So I ask you again, what, in one word, is your ambition in life? God may, like our two apostle brothers, have even greater things in store for you. But in one word, describe, what is your ambition?

Is it patience, to be a better family member or friend? Is it encouragement amid a difficult chapter in your life? Is it courage to stand up to abuse in your life, or to befriend a friendless person at work or in the neighborhood? Is it to achieve peace in the face of the loss of a loved one or the end of a relationship? Is it hope when you feel like you’ve got no options left? It is companionship at a time of loneliness? Is it healing, of body, mind or spirit? It is forgiveness or the ability to forgive another, or oneself? What? What do you and I want Jesus to know about that is your greatest ambition in life or the rest of the life God has given you? (pause)

To draw yourself more deeply into this passage and into the presence of Jesus for granting these wishes, I suggest that you pick up one of the small blank green pieces of paper you find in your pew, and write down one word that captures what most you want Jesus to know is your greatest ambition in life. If there isn’t a green piece of paper handy, you can certainly remember one word. Remember it and write it down when you get a chance. You could, of course write out a whole sentence or paragraph, but I think you know the larger content of your ambition and writing just one word might help you feel a little mere focused. You can, if you choose, write out the whole hope, prayer, ambition, later. (pause)

But today is really a celebration of our parish and our parish feast day. So let’s change the focus for a moment. What is your ambition for our parish, for its future, or the possibilities of what it can be and do in the future? Is it simple survival? Is it that it will endure? There is a saying that “Survival is Progress”, but, let’s face it, survival is only survival; Progress is progress. So what is your ambition for St. James parish? Is it extraordinary growth? That it regain the size and influence in had in its heyday? And, if so, for what purpose? Just to be big? Is their some ambitious reason for your dream that our parish grow in numbers? And what can you do to help make it grow?

It it you ambition that St. James gain enough influence to change our community, our city or even our world? That we bring Peace, the Love of Jesus, an end to violence, killing, hatred, bigotry, abuse? Is your ambition for us, that we be proclaimers of God’s Word to the world, and be heard, that Through us Jesus’ love and forgiveness and caring for us, each other and all, come to fulfillment through our efforts? It that what you want?

Then take another piece of that green paper and write that down. In one word, write down your ambition for St. James parish. Don’t be stingy; make it as ambitious as you think it needs to be. (pause) And save that piece of paper to put in the collection basket. Let me know what your ambitions are for St. James parish. And while you are at it, write that ambition too, on your own green piece of paper. So you can be reminded of it and can ask yourself, “What can I do to make our parish ambitions come to fruition, come true?”

I want you to take that green piece of paper with you – carry it in your pocket or purse – and pull it out from time to time during the coming week to remind yourself that Jesus knows your need, that Jesus cares about you and what you aspire to, and that Jesus is praying for you; and also that Jesus has his own ideas of what your ambitions will bring you to.

And, maybe, you can also reflect during the week on your ambition, your need, and Jesus’ response. How, that is, do you sense Jesus being a part of this ambition, this area of your life? How might God be responding to your hope and dream?

One of the ways God responds to us is through each other, through the company of broken and forgiven people we call the church. That’s part of Jesus’ prayer that we may ‘all be one’./In fact, after you’ve written out your own ambition, you might turn to each other and share just that one word with another person – whether or not they choose to explain it (pause) now, all together, let’s all say our one word out loud, — louder – louder – one more time, there; good.  Now,,,,,,,,,, it’s its not getting too confusing — because we don’t need more confusion, do we –let’s look at our word for St James parish. And let’s say it out loud – louder – louder – one more time.

Now, let’s take a little bit of time, and silently, let’s join Jesus in pr­­­aying for each other, and for our parish of St. James. (pause)

Jesus all those years ago, was telling his disciples that their ambitions would be realized, and a hundredfold more, if you are willing to change wanting to be great, to being willing to be servants, to give away our lives in exchange for the many who are held hostage. But don’t let go of your ambitions, for yourself or for our parish. Ambitions are the dreams we need to dream to come true.

Happy Feast Day!



  1. Mary Murock

    Mon 29th Jul 2013 at 9:09 pm

    What a great homily for St. James Day! After reading the homily, I tried to think of my ambition. When hearing the homily, with many suggestions, I came up with one. I didn’t Courage is something I need. I Sometimes I am afraid of helping people out people because I might offend them, when most times it is appreciated.
    Father suggested writing down the writing down “your word” and looking at it during the week. I thought of another way. Sending an e-mail to yourself with (in my case “courage”) the word written in the subject line. Send it to yourself daily and say a prayer when it is opened.
    I also thought of how one thinks of their word when they here it out loud. In my case I think of gumption and it gives me strength. I also thought of how you picture other words that Father mentioned. The word Faith gives me calm. Hope, I look to heaven. I always think when the word Joy is spoken no one can resist smiling. Thank you Father, for such a wonderful, thought provoking homily.

  2. Father Metzler

    Wed 31st Jul 2013 at 12:12 am

    Thank you Mary. Your thoughts were very humbling. And your suggestions were very inspiring to me — another homily, if you will!
    Thanks. Fr. M.

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