Desiring to Serve

First Reading: Jas 4:1-10
Psalm: Ps 55:7-8, 9-10a, 10b-11a, 23
Gospel: Mk 9:30-37

In today Gospel reading, we see the apostles arguing among
themselves as to who among them is the greatest. There seems to be
something within all of us that is of a competitive nature.

Everybody wants to be better than the next guy. The common view of
greatness does not include the characteristic of servanthood.
Prevalent in our society is an attitude that to make it to the top,
one must be willing to aggressively challenge and defeat all comers,
that one must almost arrogantly be self-assertive; and if anyone
gets in the way, they should be used as a stepping stone.

Drastically different is the picture of greatness that Jesus gives
us. To be great as far as Jesus was concerned is to be a servant. To
have other attitudes in opposition to this is to fail in authentic
Christian living. To adopt a worldly view of greatness and success
means that we will never be truly great in the eyes of God. Those
who would be legends in their own time are never very important in
God’s thinking.

In the gospel reading, Jesus takes the opportunity to teach his
apostles something about true spiritual greatness, at least by
Kingdom standards. In doing so, He reveals to them that the
attitudes of pride and exclusivity have no place in the Christian.
The path to greatness is not paved at the expense of others. In our
society, and in Jewish culture as well, greatness was measured in
how many served you, how many obeyed your command, how many catered
to your needs. But Jesus said that if someone wants to be first,
that person must become servant of all. What a revolutionary idea.
It ran counter-culture, counter-natural to all their thinking. What
a powerful paradox.

Notice that Jesus does not discourage ambition. Ambition in itself
is not a negative thing. The desire to be first was not rebuked by
Jesus, just defined. Ambition to be great is OK as long as it is not
selfish ambition. If our ambition is for self-glory and self-
gratification, then our ambition is outside of the will of God. But
on the other hand, if we are seeking to be the best God can make us,
if we are seeking first His Kingdom and righteousness, if we are
seeking to be great in our service to Him, then we are seeking a
worthy thing.

The paradox is that in order to be great, the first must willingly
be last. True greatness is manifested in servanthood. It is not how
many serve us, but how many we serve. To illustrate this, Jesus uses
a child to drive home His point. Children, in this context,
represent the poor, the needy, the downtrodden, the ordinary, just
plain human beings. We are not to play favorites, but to receive
everyone, the supposed great and the small, the rich man and the
poor man, without playing favorites. Whether we are rich or poor is
no consequence with God, and it should not be with us.

Furthermore, we should not play favorites based on what people can
do for us. Some people cater to other people because they seek a
favor. We should never do so. Rather, we should receive people
because they are valuable to God, and every soul is valuable to God.
Humble servanthood is an attitude that is essential to effective
Christian living.

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