29th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Much will be expected!

Today’s readings

Of those to whom much has been given, much will be expected.

These words, spoken by Jesus in another place in the Gospels, are very related to the words we hear him speak to us today:

Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.
For the Son of Man did not come to be served,
but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.

The message of the whole of the Gospel is that simple, and the message of the whole of the Gospel is that difficult. We are all called to enter the kingdom of God, but much as James and John, and later all the rest of the Twelve, missed, that kingdom is not one of personal glory but rather of the glory of God, which is accomplished through service and through pouring out our lives for the good of others. There is no other way to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus was very clear about that to his disciples, and that includes all of us, brothers and sisters in Christ. This Sunday’s readings, then, provide a kind of examination of conscience for all of us who would be disciples of Jesus. Each of us has to do that according to his or her own station in life.

A little more than a year ago, I sat down in my room at the seminary and picked up a piece of the school’s stationery and a pen and began to write a letter that I knew would change my life forever. “Dear Bishop Imesch,” I began, “I ask that you would ordain me to the Order of Deacon for service in the diocese of Joliet.” Canon Law requires that this letter be written to the Bishop in the days before Ordination, asking for permission to be ordained, and pledging a life of service and obedience to the bishop and the diocese. Apparently my request was granted, because on November 4th, of 2005, Bishop Kaffer ordained me to the transitional diaconate.

And it has changed my life forever. When I preach the words I just quoted, it is with a sense of fear and trepidation. Because the Greek word diakonia, from which we derive our word “deacon,” means service. Even though I was ordained a priest in June, I don’t stop being a deacon. That level of ordination underlies my service as a priest, and I am bound by my promises to live the life I promised to live last November. And quite honestly, my salvation depends on doing just that.

In the homily of that Ordination Mass, Bishop Kaffer proclaimed the following words, which are part of the Ordination Rite:

This man, our brother, is now to be raised to the order of deacon …By consecration deacons preach the Gospel, sustain God’s people and assist in the Liturgy…From the way he goes about these duties, may you recognize him as a disciple of Jesus, who came to serve, not to be served…

Then he addressed some specific words to me, including these:

As a deacon you will serve Jesus Christ, who was known among his disciples as the one who served others. Do the will of God generously. Serve God and humankind in love and joy…

 

Express in action what you proclaim by word of mouth. Then the people of Christ, brought to life by the Spirit, will be an offering God accepts. Finally, on the last day, when you go to meet the Lord, you will hear him say: “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.”

You can hear, in all these words, how much today’s readings remind me of the commitment I made almost a year ago. Once again, of those to whom much has been given, much will be expected. I have been given the wonderful grace of Ordination to the diaconate, and to the priesthood. I have the opportunity to minister in a community that has welcomed me and accepted me as part of the parish. I have a good place to live, and am taken care of in many ways. I have been given much.

So the question is, of course, how have I lived up to what is expected of me? Have I given of myself unselfishly? Do I sacrifice my own needs and desires for the good of those I serve? Do I remain joyful in service even when the task is hard or the hours long? Am I so addicted to good feelings that I shy away from preaching what needs to be said? Have I reached out to the poor? Have I been dedicated to standing with the sick and the suffering, and those who grieve the loss of loved ones? Is prayer for all of those I serve constantly on my lips? Has love and service been the way in which I approach every situation, meeting, or occasion?

I have to confess that in this year of ordained service, I have not always done what has been expected of me. Sometimes I have failed in these ways and have made my ministry more about me than about Christ. I pray that the year ahead will be a better one, and that I will continue to grow in ministry and most of all in service to Christ and to every person.

What about all of you? Have you received much? We live in one of the most affluent areas of the world. Not negating the fact that we all have difficulties in life, still what we have could be envied by most of the world’s population. We have all received much, and from us, much is expected. As members of the Body of Christ, we have received God’s grace through Baptism and the other Sacraments, and we are called to share that grace with others, according to the example of Christ, who came not to be served but to serve. Listen to these words of instruction from the Rite of Confirmation:

The promised strength of the Holy Spirit, which you are to receive, will make you more like Christ and help you to be witnesses to his suffering, death, and resurrection. It will strengthen you to be active members of the Church and to build up the Body of Christ in faith and love.

The call is there for all of us, and we are to follow it. We have received much, and much will be expected of all of us. So, reflecting on these readings, let us ask ourselves: Have we striven to make Christ present in every place where we are by our thoughts, words and actions? Have we been ministers of the Lord to those who are in need, to the sick and the aged, to those who have no one to care for them? Have we made the present the love of Christ in our workplaces, classrooms, communities and homes? Have we made worship a priority, and have we always gone forth in peace to love and serve the Lord?

Maybe, like me, you would have to confess that all of your life has not been lived that way. Maybe you have had some particularly un-Christ-like moments this past year. Maybe you have been more about being served than about serving others. Maybe you have made it all about you. Join me in repenting of that, and in seeking forgiveness from those you have not served as you should. Join me in praying that the year ahead will find us giving our lives as a ransom for many.

As we approach the Eucharistic table with our gifts today, let us also bring forward our better moments of diakonia, and leave behind the moments where that has not been a priority for us. As we reach out to receive the precious Body and Blood of our Lord who gave his very life for us, let us also receive his strength and Spirit that we may go forth to be the Body of Christ to everyone in our lives and in our communities. Let us repent of our selfishness and greed and reach out to others in generosity and charity. Let us be the servants of all and the slaves of all, so that we might paint our world with the compassion of our Lord. Let us stop trying to get into the kingdom of God like James and John and the others in today’s Gospel, and remember that the kingdom of God is not about us. As Christ gave his very life for us, so let us too give our lives in service to others, that we might be a ransom for many who would otherwise not know the Lord. Let us all raise the bar of our stewardship of time, talent and treasure to the level that Jesus did in giving his life for us. May we all stop making our ministries about us rather than about Christ and those we serve. May we all be renewed in the commitment we made at Baptism, and the commitments we have made to service. Let us proclaim Christ in every thought and deed.

Because … of those to whom much has been given, much will be expected.

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