Today is the feast of St. James, a.k.a Santiago, brother of John, one of Zebedee’s sons. He was present at the Transfiguration and most of Jesus’ miracles. He was the first disciple to be martyred, around the year 42AD.
The martyrdom of St. James is significant in light of today’s Gospel. Whereas he was the first of the apostles to be martyred, he was also one of those who dared to ask Jesus for a special place in the kingdom. Recall that James and John, accompanied by their mother, approached Jesus and asked that they be seated on Jesus’ right and left when Jesus reigns in his kingdom. They were asking for places of honor, the best seats in the house, but Jesus could only ask them in response, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” James and John answered in the affirmative, and indeed, like Jesus, James died for his faith.
There is something in us that wants to be given importance. We feel good when we are praised or affirmed, and rightly so. But sometimes we start doing things for the sake of being praised. While this is a very human impulse, Jesus turns the table on us and says that “anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve….”
Here we have in summary Jesus’ radical idea of servant leadership. To be great is not to be recognized or acknowledged as such, but to be a humble servant. To be first is not to get ahead of all the others, but to be their slave. This goes against the wisdom of the world. Even when we try to be servant leaders, people can still praise us for it, and that’s fine as long as our motivations are clear. Besides, those moments of praise and adulation do not last. In the end, servant leadership is a lifestyle, something we try to
do day in and day out, especially when no one is looking. It is to fulfill our daily duties and commitments with humility and love, even when we are not appreciated for it. At times we may even be persecuted or ridiculed for our commitments. At times we may have to swallow our pride for the sake of the greater good.
Let us be like James. Let us acknowledge our all too human feelings of self-importance, and then learn to be humble servants of the Lord.