Genesis 29. 15-28
Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?’ Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, ‘I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.’ Laban said, ‘It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.’ So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.
Then Jacob said to Laban, ‘Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.’ So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, ‘What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?’ Laban said, ‘This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me for another seven years.’ Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.
At that time prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine over all the world; and this took place during the reign of Claudius. The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea; this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.
About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword.
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favour of him. And he said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to him, ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ But Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’
When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’
Scripture Quotations are from The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
By Anne, a Reader at St. Mary's
Saints and people who have done great things for God must have been free of the constraints and complications of family, mustn't they? We can imagine them striding across history, dedicated to their calling from God, unaffected by the family ties, responsibilities and complications that can make our own attempts to follow Jesus seem at times weaker and less wholehearted than we might aspire to.
In fact the Bible shows us people whose lives were just like ours, whose walk with God also involved family who sometimes seemed to get in the way! A bit like video interviews on TV that have been interrupted by children or animals, especially in recent months, sometimes family do creep into the narrative.
St. James was one of Jesus' disciples who went on, after the first Pentecost, to be the first apostle to be arrested and martyred by King Herod (Acts 12: 1-2). His saint's day was yesterday, July 25th, but we are remembering him today.
James was a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee along with his brother John, working with their father, Zebedee. When Jesus called the brothers to be disciples they were mending nets on Zebedee's boat. Sometimes called the “Sons of Thunder” (or Boanerges), James and John were singled out, along with Peter, to accompany Jesus to the Transfiguration where Jesus' glory was revealed on the mountain top.
Interestingly, the passage from St. Matthew's Gospel that is set for St. James' day, is the story of his mother coming to Jesus to ask a favour for her sons. This story comes as Jesus and the disciples journey to Jerusalem for the final drama of Jesus' life – his arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus has just been telling the disciples what is coming, when James' and John's mother comes and kneels before Jesus and asks that her sons should sit on Jesus' left and right in his kingdom.
Were the brothers embarrassed at their mother coming to Jesus like this? Were they taken aback? Had she been badgering them ever since they walked away from their father's boat? I can imagine her repeatedly asking them questions like, “Who's going to help your father now?”, “How are we going to survive?”, “Who will look after us in our old age?” “What are you getting out of following this Jesus?” “Is it worth it?”, “If he is a king, what's in it for you?” *Will you be honoured for being with him?” “Have you asked him what place you will have in his kingdom? If you won't, I will”
And here, now, she does come with them to Jesus. It almost feels like a mum dragging her reluctant children to a situation saying, “Now, let's get this settled.” But these are not children. James and John are grown men, fishermen, who have already spent a considerable time with Jesus, being part of the incredible activity around Jesus, seeing his miracles and hearing his teaching. Are they embarrassed that their mum has come like this? Whatever they are thinking, she does kneel and ask Jesus this favour, that her sons should have honoured places in his kingdom.
Jesus does not get angry, although the other disciples do! Jesus asks the brothers if they can drink the cup that he will drink, can they suffer as he will? They say yes but Jesus still says it is not for him to say who will have prominent places in the kingdom. He reiterates that being a follower of his is not about power or position but about servanthood. His kingdom is not about lordly position, but humility and sacrifice. The first will be last and the last first. Was mum satisfied? She did not get the answer she wanted. We don't know how she reacted; the story moves on.
In our Old Testament reading, Jacob also encounters family complications, with his uncle and father-in-law, Laban, who cheats him by substituting his elder daughter Leah for Rachel at Jacob's wedding. Jacob had returned to his mother's family in search of a wife and had set his heart on Rachel, working seven years for Laban to win her hand. On the wedding night Laban substituted Leah, later saying that it was not right for the younger to marry first. He had had seven years to find a husband for Leah, but she was still unmarried. Laban did let Jacob marry Rachel as well, but demanded another seven years of service.
There is irony in this story, as, before leaving home, Jacob had tricked his own elder brother, Esau, out of his birthright and his father Isaac's blessing for the older son. Now Jacob himself has been tricked. He does get his own back on Laban by amassing a fortune at Laban's expense, but that is another story!
Had Jacob only married Rachel, he would never have had the large family he did, including the twelve sons who went on to the the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel – Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Joseph and Benjamin. Only Joseph and Benjamin were Rachel's sons. Laban's trickery had an unexpected positive outcome!
When we look at key players in the Bible it is easy to forget that they were, like us, part of larger families of mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, in-laws and cousins who did not always understand what they were doing. These were real people with families who were sometimes helpful, supportive, kind and encouraging but who could also be difficult, obstructive, argumentative, jealous, unsupportive and lacking in understanding.
God deals with all of that. He guides people through the difficulties of family relationships and still manages to lead those he has called to the places where they can be who he wants and achieve what he has planned.
Sometimes we perhaps feel that our attempts to be followers of Jesus are complicated by our families but there is nothing new in that. Remember that in Jacob's family, Joseph's brothers were jealous of him and sold him into slavery. He went on to become powerful in Egypt and was able to save the family in time of famine. When his brothers eventually threw themselves on his mercy, Joseph said he forgave them because although they meant evil by their actions, God had turned the situation to good.
We live in the real world, in our families with all the complexities that that entails. We encounter the whole range of personalities, emotions, tensions, ideas; all the love, encouragement and support and all the envy, dismay, bafflement and misunderstanding. We encounter other people's ambitions and other people's agendas and sometimes struggle to put our point of view across. But so did the Biblical Old Testament heroes, so did the disciples and apostles who grew the young church after that first Pentecost.
We are who we are with the family we have. God knows our situation. He created us in our families. He called us where we are, not in some other place we might consider would be more ideal. So let us not think things might be easier if only ….. Let us ask God to show us how we can serve him best in the context in which we find ourselves. Let us be servants for Christ and follow the saints of history, following Jesus' word and example.
St. James' mother did not really understand Jesus' kingdom and she was not granted the favour she asked, but James and his brother, John, her sons, went on to serve with distinction as disciples and apostles promoting Jesus' kingdom within which they took their own place.
Prepared by Irving
O God, the creator and preserver of all, we pray for people of every race and in every kind of need: make your ways known on earth, your saving power among all nations.
Keep us, good Lord, under the shadow of your mercy. Sustain and support the anxious, be with those who care for the sick, and lift up all who are brought low; that we may find comfort knowing that nothing can separate us from your love in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Let us pray for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus, and for all people according to their needs.
We continue to pray for the peace, stability and unity of the world as we continue to respond to Covid-19. We pray for all who are planning our country’s path towards greater freedom of movement and personal contact. May they respond to challenges of Covid with fairness, prudence and sound judgement. May their efforts help alleviate economic burdens, compensate fairly for losses, protect employment and ensure protection for the poor, fearful and isolated.
We pray particularly at this time for ‘the West’s’ relationships with China and Hong Kong, that peaceful, fair and productive outcomes will be found to the current differences and disputes.
At home we pray for all who look after Walkley, its postmen and women, refuse collectors and street cleaners, shopkeepers and businesses, medical workers and school staff. We pray for those who, like Walkey Community Forum and Walkley Library, have continued to support people during Covid.
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer
We pray for your Church throughout the world: guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led in the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life.
We pray for all in Sheffield Diocese, especially at this time the Deanery of Laughton. We pray for and give thanks to all at St Mary’s who have kept our church alive by their newsletters, electronic ‘virtual’ worship and meetings, coffee mornings and in so many other ways. We pray especially for those who are responsible for planning the eventual re-opening of our buildings and resumption of services and other activities.
We pray for all at St Mary’s Church of England Academy as they prepare for the planned re-opening of school and a new academic year.
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer
We commend to your fatherly goodness all that are anxious or distressed in mind or body; comfort and relieve them in their need; give them patience in their sufferings, and bring good out of their troubles.
Especially we pray for all affected by the Coronavirus, both physically and emotionally. We pray for all who feel isolated, lonely and without hope. We pray for all who care for and treat Covid sufferers and for those working on protective vaccines and treatments.
And in a few moments of reflection, we bring before God our own prayers and concerns…….
Accept these prayers,
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is included in these prayers, is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000