Who is Great in God's Kingdom? by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." He replied, "What do you wish me to do for you?" They answered him, "Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left." Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" They said to him, "We can." 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; but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared." When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John. Jesus summoned the Twelve and said to them, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."
The evangelist Mark is quite convinced that Jesus' disciples failed miserably most of the time during His public ministry at comprehending His full identity and the Gospel way of life that He proclaimed. Our Gospel passage for this week is a prime example of their failure to comprehend the teaching of Jesus. James and John have the audacity to ask Jesus if one could be on His right and the other on this left when He comes into His glory.
Always the patient teacher and shepherd of souls, Jesus takes this serious lack of discretion and turns it into a teachable moment. Our Lord uses their proud, selfish question to teach the Apostles about how God defines true greatness.
"You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all."
Jesus is constantly turning upside-down various norms in our culture that flow from our broken and damaged human nature. Leaders who have no faith often lord it over those under their authority and make their leadership felt. Christian leaders take a different approach. They view leadership as an opportunity to serve, to sacrifice and to do what is truly best for those under their authority. Jesus states very clearly at the conclusion of this passage that He Himself came not to be served but to serve, and to offer His life for the salvation of all. There is no better manifestation of greatness or love than to lay down one's life for one's friends.
As I listen to Jesus teach us about who is great in His kingdom, two young men come to mind who have witnessed some of His greatness to me. The first is a young man who has served on our student leadership team at Marymount University in Arlington. I remember traveling with him on a pilgrimage a few years ago. I recognized on a few occasions early in the pilgrimage that he was always the last one from our group to go through the food line. After observing this, I asked him why de did that. He said that he wanted to make sure that everyone else got their food first because he was very willing to go without if necessary. He did not mind at all the possibility of missing a meal if there was not enough for everyone on a particular occasion.
I was very inspired by the thoughtfulness, humility and "greatness" of this young man who was thinking of others at meal time. That is not very common for a young man, especially one who is getting plenty of exercise walking around a large city on pilgrimage. He showed me the face of Jesus that week.
The second young man also has a servant's heart. He constantly pitches in around the house or in various ministry settings to take care of the most menial tasks, the ones that most people avoid at all costs. He seems to thrive at doing what others don't normally like to do like wash the dishes, put the trash out, clean the bathroom and sweep the floor. I know that this young man really enjoys people and loves to spend time with them, so his commitment to these tasks is not a form of escape. It is true service. This young man has also shown me the face of Jesus.
As we listen to Jesus speak His word to us this week through the sacred Scriptures, may we make every effort to listen attentively, allow His word to penetrate our hearts, be open to change the way we view reality and develop a servant's heart. "Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be the first among you will be the slave of all."
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