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There's No Genie Granting Wishes

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Oct. 23, 2012

Written by: Father Jim Chern
Montclair State University

There were three guys who were in a plane crash: One from New York, the other from Chicago and the third from Philly. Amazingly, when the plane went down, they were the only three to make it out of the wreck and onto a raft.  Continuing on their lucky streak, the ocean currents brought them to an island, which they later determined to be uninhabited by humans. Not only that, but it was beautiful! Mild climate, plenty of fruit and vegetables growing, plenty of small animals for food, clean, freshwater streams and waterfalls, no real predatory creatures, plenty of beaches, you get the idea… It was a virtual paradise.

Well, three months later, as they were all taking a swim at one of the many beaches, they saw something floating in the water, and it turned out to be a lamp! And would you believe it, they rubbed the lamp and this magic genie comes out. A honest to goodness genie! He said:

“For releasing me from this lamp, I can grant three wishes. Since there are three of you, I will grant one wish to each of you.” The three men were overjoyed at their good fortune.

The New Yorker said, “Hmm, you know, I really like it here on this island. It’s very quiet and clean and all that, not like New York. But I do miss the night life back in the big apple, especially my buddies and my girlfriend… I WISH I WAS BACK IN A NEW YORK IN A BAR WITH A COLD BEER IN ONE HAND AND MY GIRL ON THE OTHER!!!!!” And boom - presto-whamo, the genie granted him his wish, and the New Yorker disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

The guy from Chicago said, “This Island ya know, it’s good, it’s nice - but ya know, I got a wife and like a family back home - I really want to go back home and be with them .”   No sooner had he finished his sentence, the man magically disappeared from the tropical paradise back to the Windy City.

The guy from Philadelphia said, “Well, I guess I’d go home, but then again I have no family, I’ve been gone for three months which means that I probably lost my job, and well, Philly is Philly – the most we got going for us is the Phillies and the Eagles so that’s not saying much. It’s crowded and polluted and messed up. Maybe I’ll just stay here. After all, it is nice here… But I’d really get lonely being here all by myself… Geeee, I really wish those two guys were back…”   

Often times when we hear genie in the lamp - three-wish stories or tales - you can’t help but let your mind wander to “what if?” What if we had a genie in a lamp offer us three wishes… and no you couldn’t use that whole “wish for three more wishes” bit. Often, what comes to mind can give you some idea about where your heart and mind are fixed on. “I wish I could get straight A’s” - might reveal that you’re struggling with academics. “I wish I had a new car” probably says that something’s wrong with the car your driving and you don’t have the money to buy a new one.   But it’s an interesting thing for us to ask ourselves - if you had a wish, what would it be?

It’s not uncommon for a lot of us to bring those wishes to some extent into our prayer lives. While we don’t look at Jesus as a genie in a lamp (well, hopefully we don’t) - we’ve heard him in the Gospels calling us to trust in him, to seek, knock, ask Him and then we’ll be given what we need. So while students might not come and pray “Jesus I wish I got straight A’s” - it’s not uncommon that there’s a few more prayers offered come Final Exam time. And how often when a lotto jack pot of $200 million dollars do people pray that they could get the winning numbers (promising to share a lot of it with charity) so that a lot of our temporal needs and concerns would be taken care of.

James and John in today’s Gospel give it a shot. They’ve seen people who have been miraculously cured by Jesus, they even witnessed crowds of thousands fed from 5 loaves and 2 fish.  So you can’t blame the guys for thinking - hey let’s give it a shot “Jesus” (or to quote more accurately: ) “Teacher, we want you do for us whatever we ask of you.” It’s kind of like they’ve been taking in what’s been happening to other people and figure “what’s wrong with asking?” Jesus, playing along, asks “what do you wish – “What do you wish me to do for you?”

What is it that they’re looking for? There’s an attempt to become Jesus’ Number 1 and Number 2 or rather co- Number 2’s “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” While we can argue that maybe part of them simply desired to be closer to Jesus - the reality is that they still were not sure what this new Messiah’s reign was going to look like. Thoughts of Jesus being able to wipe the Roman occupiers out of Israel, to re-establish their earthly Kingdom for Israel, with Jesus ascending the throne played heavily in their expectations - so why not put a word in – as we’re heading towards Jerusalem.   Hey, Jesus, keep us in mind…

The beauty of this Gospel story is the incredible humanness of these the first apostles. We often think of them as the giants in the faith, the Saints who were the first ones to preach the Gospel.  But we can’t forget the journey it took for them to become those holy men. And we see and hear their humanness on display tonight ...  Not just the egos of James and John… but the envy and jealousy of their brothers - the other 10 apostles who were probably worried that they might have been successful because they were the first ones to get to Jesus.

Yet Jesus entertains the 12 of them with their trivial wishes to teach a more important point. It’s almost like Jesus is saying - have you ever wondered what is God’s one single wish? God’s wish for humanity is so much greater than anything we can imagine. Jesus’ wish for each and every single soul is so strong that He came down from heaven, took on this human nature, lived among us, suffered and died for us – all for this one wish. 

That we would be one with God for now and for all eternity. 

Jesus’ wishes us to take that gift of his - recognizing the ramifications of what he offers that would help us move beyond our daily struggles and worries and recognize our citizenship in the eternal kingdom of his where true, abiding, lasting, authentic love reigns. That’s God’s wish for each of us - to be a part of that kingdom of His.

Jesus isn’t discouraging us from bringing our prayers and wishes, even those less than noble ones that perhaps take up more room, more space than they should.  He hears our prayers, our wishes… And continues to gently, lovingly prod us to look at those desires of our hearts that come out of us. And the question we need to ask ourselves as we lay those out “is this really going to bring me closer to Jesus Christ, is it going to help me bring others closer to Jesus Christ or not?”  Because ultimately if it’s not about Him, if it’s not about leading ourselves and others to Him, how important are those things we’re bringing up? How attentive are we to His presence and activity to those prayers?

In that, Jesus reminds us that unlike a Genie in a lamp providing us with simply whatever it is we desire, our Messiah’s ability to answer our prayers and wishes cost Him something. It was purchased by his own death and resurrection. So he has a vested interest in how each of our stories is going to turn out.  He will only grant what will lead us to a future with Him and what will assist us in bringing others along with him.

And what else could we seriously wish for?