Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory,
Jesus, bringing the useless argument of apostolic superiority to a clashing close, reminds his bickering friends who he is: “I am among you as the one who serves.” Wiser than all those sent with tongues on fire; holier than all those raptured in righteousness; more glorious than all the choirs of celestial intelligences; and in possession of a perfected heavenly reflection of the Face of God, His divine light, glory that outshines the Queen of Heaven, his own mother, Jesus the Christ is “among us as the one who serves.”
Remember: in the desert before his Emptying on the Cross, Jesus is offered everything any of us would want and take if offered—wealth, power, celebrity, worship. Jesus puts the Tempter behind him to stare at his back-side. Knowing that he can be wealthy, powerful, popular, and worshipped; and knowing that his suffering and death is a matter of his free choice, Jesus says “No” to the Devil and “Yes” to us, to our eternal lives. He served us then, he serves us now. If you will follow him, if you will be his friend, his preacher, you too have to say and mean, “I am among you as the one who serves.”
Perhaps I am just a jaded academic or a calloused cynic. I am not scandalized by the apostles jockeying for position. Good leaders are always necessary to maintain a connection to our history and show a way forward into what’s coming for us. Charitably, we can assume that all this apostolic politicking is about finding the Right Guy for the job and not just politicking for the sake of prestige and power. Jesus warns his friends about the way the Gentile kings lord their power over their subjects, saying “those in authority over them are addressed as “Benefactors’”—a title for the Greek kings. Jesus’ understanding of authority and power for his friends and for the Church they will build is quite different: to rule is to serve. He teaches his disciples: “...let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. For who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one seated at table?” Can’t you hear the disciple’s brain-gears trying to grind this one out! You can almost smell the brain-oil burning as they try to crank this logic through! Then, just as they are finding convenient ways around this inconvenient little instruction, Jesus drops this bomb: “I am among you as the one who serves.” Eyes wide. Mouths drop. BOOM! Apostolic brains all over the walls and ceiling.
Son of God, Son of Man; King of kings, Prince of princes; The Messiah, The Anointed Savior, The Christ. And do not forget: The Suffering Servant. On a donkey. Accused with lies. Bound in mocking purple. Beaten. Crowned with wooden nails. And nailed to a cross of wood. Broken. Bled. Speared and finally, dead. If you will lead Christ’s people as his disciple, if you will serve the table of the Lord as our slave, you will follow him…not only behind him on Palm Sunday, collecting your share of accolades. But beside him on Good Friday as well, gripping your iron nails. Not only with him on Easter morning, rising from the grave but with him in hell the night before, freeing Nothing’s captives.
Paul writes to the Corinthians: “…we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for the sake of Jesus.” This is the only homily any of us need preach, whether from the pulpit or the chalkboard, the boardroom or the cash register, from the kitchen, the car, or on the computer: Jesus Christ is Lord! And we are his students. We cannot be discouraged “since we have this ministry [of preaching and leading] through the mercy shown us.”
Christ has conferred a kingdom on us! Therefore, we are to serve as slaves to the least of his.