Ranan Christian Pilgrimages Blog:

[Jesus said] “If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”      Mark 9:35

Last Sunday we witnessed the Lord calling Peter “Satan” when Peter reacted negatively to Jesus’ prediction that a shameful and horrible death awaited him in Jerusalem. That did not sit well at all with Peter’s idea (and indeed the idea that the whole Jewish people at that time) that the Messiah would lead them, basically, to a war of liberation against the pagan occupying force of Romans. I mentioned the “negative bits” of Scripture concerning the Messiah which we Christians believe applied to the Messiah, but the Jews did and do not. Well another such negative prophecy occurs in today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom. For example, “Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him”. That did not sit well at all with the popular image of an all-conquering Messiah, yet from a Christian point of view, it is absolutely accurate, breathtakingly so. Jesus had to deal with that expectation daily, the reason he forbade them to talk of his miracles and powers. And today he had to deal with another fallacy among his followers, namely, which of them was the greatest, as they were associated with none other than the Messiah of Israel!

Poor Jesus; he must have been exasperated with them as they seem to have had no idea at all of his fundamental teachings. So he stated it clearly, no-one was to be the greatest! Indeed their greatness would be measured not as the world measures it, but as God does, greatness measured against the innocence of a child, with no thought of gain or self-promotion. Look at the picture from Lourdes above, a volunteer young man pushing an older woman, clearly incapacitated, in a wheelchair. What gain is there for him in that? In the eyes of the world, it is a foolish waste of energy, time and talent which could have been put to much better use for personal gain. In the eyes of God, however, this is the life of innocence and ultimately happiness about which Jesus was teaching. Without that young man and others like him, that woman would have had a difficult, even impossible, time in Lourdes. Today’s second reading from the Letter of James spells it out quite clearly: Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. You cannot see that in any way in the picture from Lourdes above; quite the opposite. 

When I still taught high school, I would give the same assignment each year to try and get my students to see the wisdom of Jesus’ teaching. They were assigned to interview their parents and their parents’ friends and record their answers to a simple question: Are you happy in your work? There was a follow-up question: Why?  Time and again, through the years those who were satisfied with their work (the vast majority) would answer the follow-up question by stating in one way or another that the reason was because they helped other people. It seemed that if that element was not present, they were not happy. One student’s paper sticks in my memory. Students were warned that if the answer was, in some way, no, not happy, they were told to gently enquire why those people were not happy; what was the problem? One student interviewed her uncle, the richest member of her family, a Wall Street broker. His children always had the latest cell phones, latest fashions, etc. They had a grand house in a fashionable suburb. They had everything, but this man told her he hated his job; he had to will himself to get out of bed on a Monday morning to go to work. He saw no point in it. So she asked him why? Because all he had wanted to do was be a chef. She was deeply shocked as she had no idea of this at all. Her conclusion was, now I know why, at family cookouts to which everyone was invited, there he was, behind the grill, wearing a chef’s hat, smiling and clearly very happy as he served them. The income of a chef was nothing compared to the Wall Street income he had achieved. He was trapped. If he had given up everything for the chef’s hat, his whole family would have suffered. So he continued. He had betrayed his vocation when he had given in to pressure from family and friends to take that high-paying job, a chance they said that he would never have again. Although he was, indeed, now serving his family, his own true self wished to do that in a profoundly different, much more direct way to the wider world. To be a chef.

This assignment was to allow my students to see for themselves and reach their own conclusions, that money was not everything, power was not the answer. Serving others in the way God suggested was the way in which our gifts were to used, not for ourselves, but for others, and in that way achieve happiness. Working on Wall Street for those called to it serves others by investing their resources to allow greater security, and so on, but only if you are called to it! When I was in postgraduate studies, I encountered several people such as that Wall Street mogul who had, unlike him, given it all up to become a teacher. Then they hoped to use their skills in a more satisfying way. So today, Jesus’ disciples were being treated to lesson one in personal fulfillment, that ambition for self was not Jesus’ way; ambition for others is, and remains so to this day. Today it is called servant leadership: 





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