Arguing about who is the greatest or the most important person in a group or organization usually stems from a sense of insecurity. Following on the declaration that Jesus gave to His disciples, one that caused them to be greatly troubled, they begin to argue about who is the most important in their group. Although Jesus doesn’t help them rank each other in importance, He does teach them how to be great.
His wisdom confused them at that time, as it confuses us now. Most of us believe that we prove our greatness by showing external power through possessions, status or influence. We think that we show our greatness by always getting what we want and using influence to shape our world exactly as we wish it to be. No wonder the wisdom of Jesus is confusing. How can you be great if your’ elast and the servant of all?
Jesus teaches us that the strongest and most powerful influence is love. When He speaks of love, He doesn’t mean cheap love, the kind of love that comes from bribing people with gifts. The kind of love He’s talking about is what He showed us on the cross and in His treatment of people throughout His lifetime. He showed us the power of being last and being a servant.
Every time Jesus touched someone who had a disease, or had a conversation with someone of a different religion, or ate a meal with someone known to be a public sinner, He violated a purity code of His time and made Himself the least among the people. At the Last Supper, when He washed the feet of His disciples, He took the lowest position and asked His disciples to follow in His footsteps. His choice to go to the cross for each of us while we are still sinners shows us what it means to be the last of all and the servant of all.
During several encounters during His life here on earth, Jesus was pushed to see if He was really a man of His word or simply spoke a cheap love. People wondered if He would truly do what He said when things got tough or would He take Himself out of insecure situations and use the power to rescue Himself rather than the rest of us. We know how He acted and we know what He would wish for us to do. So will we take His teaching seriously and become the last of all and the servants of all? Will we take in the childlike among us and treat them with respect? Will we be able to voluntarily give up the superficial power that we have for the true power of love as we serve the least among us?
If you are part of a parish community, you know that the possibilities are always there to become the servant of all. In order to be able to do that, we have to prepare ourselves by practicing humility and developing listening hearts. We have to be able to take into account not just what benefits us and our loved ones but also how our actions and choices impacts others around us, even those we don’t know. If we are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, it isn’t just being aware of how we affect those who agree with us. It’s also keeping in mind and heart those who disagree with us who are affected by our choices. We follow Jesus by beginning to believe that even though we have an opinion that we truly believe is right, we are humble enough to listen and to acknowledge that maybe sometimes we don’t know everything.
Since we are among the most blessed people on the face of the earth, we are used to having what we want and getting our own way. In this pandemic time, we are wrestling with responsibility toward one another and how that affects our individual choices. Most of us have not been very practiced at that since we live very individual lives and depend upon each other very little, in an obvious way.
Could this be a time in each of our lives when we practice humility consciously, when we choose not always to get our way or take a lower seat than we think we deserve or think about another person and not just how something affects us? That would truly be grace that comes from suffering!
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.