Who will you serve? For some of us, the reality of the question is: What will we serve? As we continue with our message series this month, we are focusing on the Cost of Discipleship, this week we are thinking about, Will We Do Whatever He Asks?
As a culture, surely, we tend to prize freedom … and accomplishment … and autonomy … and self-determination … and … And the list could go on and on ... which is why, if we slow down and take the question seriously, we’ll recognize how much it grates against our deeply held belief and culturally formed sensibilities.
Yet, perhaps one of the most harmful illusions of our culture is that we are, indeed, free and autonomous beings who can live independent of all bonds of loyalty, devotion, and service. In fact, I shudder to think how much time and energy we entertain the idea that we don’t have to serve anyone.
This assertion – that we will always serve something or someone whether we know it or not – is at the very heart of not simply today’s Gospel passage but much of Mark’s Gospel.
In chapter 10, Jesus speaks of his death once again, for the third time, as he said in the previous two chapters – that he is going to Jerusalem to die. And here again, the disciples still don’t get it.
First, James and John ask for special places of honor and then the rest of the disciples resent their self-interested pushiness. Jesus’ words still haven’t sunk in and taken hold yet, so he says as plainly and clearly as possible that to be great is to serve others and that to be first is to be last.
Mark tells the story because he knows that Jesus’ words – indeed, his whole life – run contrary to our natural tendency to think about power, leadership, and all of life according to the terms of the world and therefore … like the disciples … the message takes time to sink in.
In today’s reading, James and John think greatness comes from status and power. And in response Jesus points out that there is no escaping service. You will either willingly, even joyfully, serve others, or you will become a slave to your illusions that you can be free and secure your future through status and power or, in our day, wealth or youth or fame or possessions, and so on.
So, let’s pause and listen again: Who will you serve? Who will we serve?
The voices of the culture that say that we can be free – indeed, must be free – on our own and at any cost, or the voice of Jesus that calls us to find our freedom and, indeed, our true self, through service to neighbor.
You may remember that last week we read the Genesis narrative in relation to Jesus’ words about marriage, but I wonder if they aren’t more about our inherently relational and social nature as those made in the image of the triune God. We are made to be in relationship and we discover our wholeness only as we join ourselves to the fortunes of those around us. It seems to me that we discover our true identity as whole people when we see ourselves inextricably linked – “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” – with those around us.
So here at St Teresa’s I am proud of the many successes that we have accomplished for service … in our midst and beyond … I’m thinking about the Loaves and Fishes Ministry, the many ways that the Christ Child Society serves, The Blood Drives, the Diaper and Wipe Collections, the Thanksgiving and Christmas food baskets, the Scouts and Students who pitch in on calls for help … and even those who support our Mexico Mission. But I believe that “to those who have given much … much will be expected” … so I know that we can do more, with regularity and planning.
And it cannot be just the same old people who give, attend, bring things, donate, and serve … I’m calling you … and challenging each of you … and myself too … how do you serve?
And to help us, we are seeking to hire a part time Service Coordinator for our parish to help all of us better embrace the challenge of the Gospel.
On Monday, Pope Francis has launched a two-year consultation of all the world's Catholics, an ambitious project to prepare the agenda for the next meeting of the Synod of Bishops in 2023. Referring to the passage in Scripture, he said:
In these days, Jesus calls us, as he did the rich man in the Gospel, to empty ourselves, to free ourselves from all that is worldly, including our inward-looking and outworn pastoral models …”
One of the outworn pastoral models that we need to free ourselves from is that we just come to Church, once in a while, for less than one hour, and remain safe and disengaged …
We are called to more! … and as your pastor its my job to challenge us to succeed in that regard.
So, this week … lets take the words of Isaiah the prophet and just like Jesus, our suffering servant, find new way, to the degree that we can, to give some time in our life offering and sacrifice and service for others, because then and only then will we see the light of Jesus in fullness and allow the will of the Lord to be accomplished through us. In that mode, I have every confidence that we will discover a depth and quality of life we’d never experienced before.