Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 21, 2018)
A young person in church heard that authorities should be servants and thought: “my parents really need to hear this!” The parents heard it and thought: “my boss really needs to hear this! The boss heard it and thought: “Our CEO really needs to hear this!” The CEO heard it and thought, “Our pastor really needs to hear this!” The pastor heard it and thought, “The bishop really needs to hear this!” How deaf we all can be!
James and john came from some money; they were the sons of Zebedee, who was wealthy enough to hire employees for his fishing business. The brothers enjoyed other prestige: they, with peter, formed the inner circle of the apostles who were with Jesus at very special times:
the three whom Jesus took with him when he raised the daughter of Jairus from death;
the three privileged to experience the transfiguration of Jesus;
the three who will be present in the garden of Gethsemane.
Remember earlier, when Jesus [and they] had been rejected by a Samaritan town? They wanted to call down fire and brimstone to destroy the town? Jesus must have been shaking his head in stunned disbelief. James and John got the only nickname among the apostles: “Boanerges” - “the sons of thunder.” A very human moment with Jesus and the twelve. We heard the reaction of the others in today’s Gospel.
Today, we hear the pair ask that if Jesus is to get the gold medal, that they stand on the other two pedestals to get the silver and bronze; that they sit at his right and left hand in glory. Jesus had just foretold, for the third time, his passion and taking up the cross. They talked about climbing up on two pedestals.
Why? Perhaps James and John recalled their presence at Jesus’ glorious transfiguration with Moses and Elijah one on each side of him. They could not conceive of Jesus’ future entrance to glory with a thief one on each side. Both James and john would later become revered saints; there is hope for us all.
Jesus takes this opportunity to teach a most revolutionary lesson: the place of authority/ power in the kingdom of God. He taught that if one wished to be master, he must serve the rest, not lord it over the rest. The greatest abuse of power is to use power for one’s personal advantage. Jesus would wash their feet at the last supper.
Positions of power are troublesome for disciples like you and me. We have bad examples in politics: “public servant” has often come to mean one who makes a campaign promise of being a servant before the election and acts as a master after the election.
Power can - and often does - turn our heads. “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”, Lord Acton correctly said. Do you know that he originated the saying when speaking about the papacy? With power comes independence. With independence often comes pride. With pride often comes arrogance - shown in being deaf to hearing both the voice of Jesus and the cry of the poor.
Perhaps, another hurdle is really appreciating the distinction between being useful and being used? We need to know and live the difference, so we become servants to others, not “enablers.”
In being a Christian servant, one avoids coercive power [violence]. We need to make a u-turn on the learning curve of “worldly wisdom.” The Christian, alternative power to coercive is persuasive power.
Persuasive is the power Jesus used. Persuasive power is the power of a mother Teresa of Calcutta, the power of St. Francis de sales who authored the saying, “You can catch more flies with a teaspoon of honey than with a barrel of vinegar.” You can supply your names of people who have influenced you by their persuasive power. It is the power of good example, shining example, the “gentle persuasion” of the Quakers.
We have heard it said that we cannot change others; the only one we can change is ourselves. We are changed by shining example, the persuasive power of others, especially Jesus. That is what we can offer to others.
Everyone knows what it means to be a servant. What we may forget is that it represents our highest calling and the meaning of any authority we may have. Without occasional reminders, we so easily forget and act like young Jimmy and Johnny.