The next chapter of The Imitation of Christ is called “Of Compunction of Heart” (1,21). The author, Thomas à Kempis speaks often of compunction, which the Oxford Dictionary defines as “a feeling of guilt or moral scruple that prevents or follows the doing of something bad.” Kempis is emphasizing that our own sinfulness should be our focus, not the affairs of others. More on this below.
Today’s Gospel (Mt 20:17-28) is the famous scene in which the mother of apostles James and John asks that Jesus set aside a special place in heaven for her sons. The other ten apostles express open displeasure about this request that they undoubtedly look upon as meddling or even prideful (maybe to cover up there own hubris?). Jesus calmly counters this internal dissension by again emphasizing the proper attitude they should adopt, using Himself as the exemplar: humility expressed in service to all.
We should take to heart, as hopefully the apostles did, Jesus message. Both Kempis and Matthew bring to mind one of Christ’s most famous sayings directed to those who judge others inappropriately:
You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye. (Mt 7:5)
When we honestly and frequently examine our own consciences, we should discover many faults and omissions. This is not to say that we should fall into scrupulosity or despair. Rather, an honest assessment of our own failings and the struggle to do better should occupy us much more than entangling ourselves with the affairs of others, as Kempis says. The apostles had such a tremendous privilege in being the closest collaborators of the Messiah (which they likely fully recognized beginning at Pentecost) yet this did not exempt them to falling prey to weakness due to their fallen nature. Jesus called these men friends (see Jn 15:15). He calls us friends (can anything be greater!) as well as long as we don’t break our relationship with Him. Let not the affairs of others, or the blessings they receive, be an impediment to us in our walk with God. Rather, let us be mindful of our own sins and pray and persevere in overcoming them.
Christ Meeting Sons and Mother of Zebedee (c. 1565) by Paolo Veronese