17 October 2021

Is there ‘Priority’ boarding
for the ‘best seats’ in
the Kingdom of God?

Waiting for a flight … but is there ‘Priority’ boarding for the Kingdom of God? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Sunday 17 October 2021

The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XX)

9.30 a.m.:
Morning Prayer, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick

11.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry

The Readings: Job 38: 1-7 [34-41]; Psalm 104: 1-10, 26, 37c; Hebrews 5: 1-10; Mark 10: 35-45

The icon of Christ the Great High Priest on the bishop’s chair or throne in the Church of Saint Nektarios in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

I am back travelling again. Between last month and this month, I have been back to Greece and back to England. But this is not without some degrees of caution and of trepidation.

I am aware of the dangers that come with this, and I have been taken aback by the low level of social distancing, mask covering or other precautions in other countries that we now regard as good manners in Ireland.

And I also realise that travel is a privilege and not a right. It is a privilege that brings with it responsibilities: for carbon footprints, for the use of fossil fuels and diminishing resources, for cultural exchanges and the dangers tourism poses to many local cultures and life.

So, when I say I am back to travelling, I want to avoid being smug about it all.

But, over recent weeks at airports, I have watched people queuing at boarding gates, in the way Desmond Morris looked at human behaviour in the 1960s in his television series and books, The Naked Ape and The Human Zoo.

It is interesting how so many people want to get on first. They book ‘Priority’ boarding, join the ‘Priority’ queue, and then are shocked to find that the Priority queue is longer than the Non-Priority queue.

And that’s just the beginning of it. We all then find we are on the one shuttle bus that takes us on a two or three-minute journey to the plane, we all board together, and, when we get to our destination, we all get off together, get on the same bus once again, and still have to queue up at the same passport control desk.

Priority booking and non-priority queues make no difference to how we get to where we are finally going.

Watching those queues at three airports over the last two months, I thought, of course of this morning’s Gospel reading (Mark 10: 35-45), and I thought of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who want priority boarding or priority seats in the Kingdom of God, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory’ (verse 37).

Is that what discipleship is all about? Booking the best seats?

But they are told, ‘whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all’ (verses 43-44).

It is a response this morning that needs to be taken on board by anyone whose name might be suggested in the weeks to come as the new Bishop of Tuam, Limerick and Killaloe.

Bishop Kenneth Kearon and Bishop Patrick Rooke both retire in two weeks’ time (31 October 2021). In the weeks that follow, it falls on the episcopal electors, elected in equal numbers from these dioceses and from the wider Church of Ireland, to elect one new bishop.

In those weeks, the electors shall be asked to consider many names, for many reasons. Bishops are seen as the successors of the apostles, but would you want as bishop someone, who like James and John, saw their own self-promotion and self-glory as more important than serving the Kingdom of God in these dioceses?

There are two essential canonical or legal requirements for a bishop: the person elected must be an ordained priest, and must have reached the age of 30.

Some people are going to point out that we only have one woman as a bishop in the Church of Ireland at present. Some are going to point out that a diocese of this size needs someone young who can hit the ground running, or someone older who can be a mature, caring and tender presence, helping two dioceses grow together with mutual respect and understanding. Others may say, for example, we need to look again at the theological balance in the House of Bishops.

The ordinal in the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of Ireland refers to the person being ordained bishop as ‘this your servant’ who is in need of the ‘gifts of grace.’

As the bishop-elect stands before the consecrating archbishop, she or he is reminded that bishops are called ‘to lead in serving and caring for the people of God,’ to be ‘chief pastors,’ to ‘maintain and further the unity of the Church,’ to take care of and promote the discipline, faith, and mission of the Church, not just in these dioceses, but ‘throughout the world.’

The bishop-elect is reminded of the duties of praying, teaching and governing, following the example of the apostles, speaking in the name of God, and preaching and teaching the Gospel.

‘They are to know their people and to be known by them’ – which is going to be a very difficult task in a new diocese that spreads all along the Wild Atlantic Way, from south Kerry to north Mayo, from Valentia Island to Achill Island, with parishes in eight or nine counties across three of the four provinces.

At their presentation, new bishops are asked to ‘encourage all baptised people in their gifts and ministries,’ and they are to be ‘faithful in visiting the sick, in caring for the poor and needy and in helping the oppressed.’ They are ‘to have special care for the sick and the outcast and needy.’

After the prayer of consecration, a new bishop is reminded once again that the priorities of episcopal ministry include those calling on him or her ‘to heal, not to hurt; to build up, not to destroy.’

These are the qualities a new bishop is to aspire to. But no-one has them all, and anyone wanting to be a new bishop needs humility rather than ambition, needs to be reluctant to come on board rather than seeking a priority boarding card.

The people being considered, and the people involved in electing a new bishop, need our prayerful consideration and our prayers in the weeks to come. For, ‘whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.’

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptised with?’ (Mark 10: 38) … Christ as the Great High Priest in the icon screen in the Mikri Panaghia Church or Church of Our Lady of the Angels in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Mark 10: 35-45 (NRSVA):

35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ 36 And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ 37 And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ 38 But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ 39 They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’

41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’

‘For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many’ (Mark 10: 45) … the San Damiano or Franciscan cross in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Green (Ordinary Time, Year B)

The Collect:

Almighty God,
whose Holy Spirit equips your Church with a rich variety of gifts:
Grant us so to use them that, living the gospel of Christ
and eager to do your will,
we may share with the whole creation in the joys of eternal life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Collect of the Word:

God of unchangeable power,
when the heaven and earth were made,
the morning stars sang together
and the host of heaven shouted for joy:
open our eyes to the wonders of creation
and teach us to use all things for good,
to the honour of your glorious name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

God our Father,
whose Son, the light unfailing,
has come from heaven to deliver the world
from the darkness of ignorance:
Let these holy mysteries open the eyes of our understanding
that we may know the way of life, and walk in it without stumbling;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


34, O worship the King all-glorious above (CD 2)
366, Praise, my soul, the King of heaven (CD 22)
294, Come down, O Love divine (CD 18)

‘For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve’ (Mark 10: 45) … ‘Serving Brunch with Love’ … a sign outside a café on the island of Paxos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

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