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.”
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. Excerpt from Mk 10:35-45
I think that all of us can see ourselves in James and John in this Gospel. It is only normal to want to be chosen for the place of honor. We want to be acknowledged. How many of us have waved our hands and yelled (or at least thought) “Pick me! Pick me!” at some point in our lives? I’ve been there more times than, in light of this Gospel, I care to admit.
The Bible Study group I belong to is currently making its way through Growing in the Virtues of Jesus by Quentin Hakenewerth, SM. The very beginning of the book invites the reader to develop one’s true self and set aside one’s ego self. According to Hakenewerth, the ego is the part of us that believes we are the source of our own worth. “When we live out of our ego, we feel worthwhile only to the degree that we can attribute to ourselves — or get others to attribute to us — some achievement, merit, or credit.” Our ego is always searching for the next vote of approval. Hakenewerth shares a story of a religious sister who encountered a four-year-old girl at a Family Renewal conference. The sister asked the little girl what she had learned that day. “Oh, we learned about the old self and the new self,” the little girl responded. “When I am selfish, that’s my old self. And when I love others, that’s my new self.” The little girl had it all figured out.
This is the message of today’s Gospel. To follow Christ we must be the one who serves. We must put our own ego aside. We must stop looking for the accolades and the approval of the world. Rather, we must find our worth in the only One who matters. Our worth comes from God from the very moment of our conception. He made us. That is the source of our value. Instead of seeking the praise of the world and longing to be put on a pedestal, we need to seek to serve, to be “the slave of all.”
Of course, as with so many things in following Christ, knowing it does not make it easy to do. Our ego will continue to rear its head until the day we die, but we can take steps to move in the correct direction. We can take advantage of opportunities to put others first. Those opportunities abound in everyone’s life. We need only make the right choice. Instead of yelling “Pick me!” we can demonstrate “I choose to serve.”
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