To be in the service of others

17 October, 2021 29th Sunday, Year B

The end of the Church’s liturgical year is fast approaching and will culminate in a celebration of Christ as King. Today’s readings focus on the meaning of discipleship, on what it means to live true to Jesus our King and his teaching and example.

How slow Jesus’ disciples were in coming to understand Jesus’ teaching. As well as their slowness in learning, today’s gospel demonstrates a glaring insensitivity and shameless self-interest! Jesus, walking ahead of them, leading them on their way to Jerusalem, has just told them, for the third time, of his imminent betrayal, humiliation, suffering and death.

But, instead of expressing consolation or concern for him, they seize the opportunity to secure positions of power and prestige. While he ponders his impending suffering and death; they ponder the possibility of their own advancement! Similarly, when the other disciples heard of James and John’s request, they were indignant and angry with them for pushing for prime positions for themselves, for they too would like that advancement.

All this is in stark contrast with Jesus’ teaching, a teaching that he had patiently reiterated in various ways. They, his followers, he insisted, are not to be like political rulers who lord it over their subjects. No! He insists “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”

Once again, Jesus turns upside down their assumptions (and ours) of the ways things are and should be. We, his followers, are not to model our way of life on the way we see authority, power and leadership exercised by rulers in the world around us. Power, prestige, and authority are not our quest, nor our measure of greatness. We, as his disciples, are to model our way of living and loving (and dying) – individually and as a community – on Jesus who “came not to be served but to serve.” Not power and control over others, but service and a willingness to suffer in service of others is our measure.

We Christians, therefore, speak of and seek to emulate his servant leadership, also knowing, from his example, that suffering and a dying to oneself – in all sorts of ways – will be part of the way in our service of others.

But as the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, we have in Jesus – our teacher and our King – one who knows well the experience of suffering and weakness: “we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” He knows! To him we can go with utter confidence to “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

So, our readings today challenge us to open ourselves to learning to live and love authentically in service of others as Jesus did, bearing the suffering that comes our way in the process, and trusting in his boundless mercy and grace through it all.

Anne Hunt

© Majellan Media 2021