“If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”


On the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time we hear Jesus tell His disciples about His passion, death and resurrection a second time. It is clear to him that they didn’t understand the first time. He knew that, along the way, they had been arguing about who was the greatest. He gathers the Apostles and says to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” He knows very well that they had not been listening, so He tells them that any follower of His must be a servant to others. Placing a small child in the middle of the group, He declares that the trust and love they see in the eyes of this little one is a model for their future discipleship. Then Jesus does something a bit strange. After reminding them about the role of a true follower by being servant, Jesus embraces a child as a visual aid. This has to be somehow united with the theme of His death and how a virtuous follower is to live.

Mark is presenting Jesus as a servant Who is embracing His life, ending with His embracing of His cross and death. As easy as it is to welcome one little child into ones arms, a true follower of Jesus is to welcome the implications of that vocation. Jesus was available, welcoming and embracing of all the persons and events of His life including His welcoming of His death. The “child” becomes a convenient symbol of life and those who would be first of all must let go of the importance of being first and so be last in the “ego-line”. In this gospel, Jesus is making this message clearer. The demonstration of our beliefs should be through serving others. Jesus showed us through his actions that being humble enough to help others is important. His life was about serving others. He fed those who were hungry, cured the sick and sacrificed himself for our eternal life. Now it is our turn. We must speak out against persecution; ensure that no one goes hungry; bring comfort and dignity to those who are sick.

 

Leadership is not to be equated with control or domination of others. Rather, leadership is selfless service for the sake of others. A good leader is always a responsible steward of the opportunity that he or she has to make a lasting contribution toward the common good.

Jesus’ closest followers seemed to think that their privileged places at the side of the Master would translate into positions of prestige and importance once Jesus established an earthly kingdom. Jesus knows their hearts and wastes no time in setting them straight.  Jesus teaches that greatness lies not in receiving a position of authority and honor, but in serving other people. Jesus would teach this through His words and actions, especially in humbling Himself to suffer a horrible death, all at the service of our salvation. May we not only be thankful for the Lord accepting the role of a suffering servant, but may we imitate His self-giving through lives of faithful stewardship.

 

We often hear about the seven “capital” sins. They are the sins that flow from pride and passion. All other sins flow from them. One of them, envy, is often pictured as a green-eyed monster. In the first reading for today, the corrupt “power people” are plotting to get rid of a Holy One who is exposing their evil. “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us.” Like scheming back-room politicians, they are saying, “He’s a pain! Get rid of him!” They plot to torture Him, and eventually they kill Him! Of course, the Just One wins out in the end since, in His wisdom, He is following the way that leads to truth and justice.

In the second reading, St. James warns the early Christians to avoid self-seeking and envy. This only leads to dissention, quarreling, and war. The true follower of Jesus will avoid that passion which comes from selfish goals, and seek that passion that comes from a pure heart, that flows from true wisdom. This kind of passion is “peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity.” According to St. James, this leads to good order and peace. As we think about that dramatic teaching of Jesus, we realize how far we are from being truly childlike. May we silence our ambitions, our dissentions, and the clamor of a fearful world this week, and listen to God’s Wisdom. In so doing, we will get rid of that green-eyed monster, envy, and grow in that wisdom that leads to humble service in the Lord’s kingdom.

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