At the heart of today’s Gospel reading is the question of whether or not we as disciples of Jesus are willing to go where he’s leading us. Much could be said about the posturing of James and John to get the good seats in the kingdom. But honestly, they didn’t even know what they was asking. They had no idea what the kingdom would look like. They even missed the fact that it was in some ways already there. But their ambition is not the point here.
The point, as Jesus illustrates, is that his kingdom is not one of honor and glory, at least not in the way that James and John were thinking. His kingdom is about suffering and redemption, and then honor and glory. To get to the good stuff, you have to go through the cross. And the most honored one is the one who serves everyone else. Let me illustrate with an admittedly somewhat unflattering story about yours truly.
When I was in seminary, there were a number of nice, fancy dinners that would follow important events in the school year. So we would have them after a class received ministries like Lector or Acolyte, or after Mass for a reunion of 25-year or 50-year jubilarians. At each of these dinners, the table would be set up very fancy, and there would be an apron draped over the back of one of the chairs at the table. The idea was, the person sitting in that seat would be expected to put on the apron and serve the others at the table.
When I first got to seminary, I still had a lot of changing to do. I brought with me a lot of the selfishness of my former life. So when it came time for these dinners, I would rush to get to the refectory so that I didn’t have to sit in that spot and serve the others. I know, not very pastor-like, was it? But one day, I reflected on those last two lines of today’s Gospel: For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. And in that moment, I realized that it was indeed service that I was called to do, so if I was going to be successful in priesthood, maybe I could show it by embracing something menial like serving the others at my table.
From that day forward, things changed for me. I would still rush to get over to the refectory as soon as I could, but that was so that I could sit in that seat and serve the others. Not only did I take on the server role, but I actually found joy in it. When you let go of thinking only about yourself, you find that you can actually receive many blessings. The blessings I found were that those dinners were a lot more fun; I had some wonderful conversations not only with the people at my table, but also with the kitchen staff.
Jesus in our Gospel reading today is calling us all to sit in that seat at the table, to put on our aprons, and help serve everyone else. That flies in the face of our entitlement, it tears down the notion of looking out for number one, it means that inconvenience for the sake of others has to become a real option in our daily lives. But let’s be honest, not all of us, probably none of us, are ready to get up there on the cross and die for the sake of the ungodly. Instead, we have to find little ways of love that build up others and take them on despite the millions of other things clamoring for our attention.
This is Stewardship Sunday. On this day, we always call on each other to take stock of the many blessings God has given us and move to respond to that blessing. Today’s Gospel ups the ante and calls us to be the servant of all. I am asking you to prayerfully consider how you can respond to that call. Two weeks ago, you heard our Finance Committee talk about the state of our parish finances and our parish buildings. We have accomplished a lot together, but there is still more to be done. This coming week, you’ll receive a letter from me in the mail, asking you to respond to God’s blessings in your life. I realize that you have many demands on your family’s finances, just as we do here at church. But whatever you can give helps us to accomplish the mission of our parish: worshipping God, educating children and adults in the faith, and reaching out to assist those in need. We cannot do that without your support. There is a form included in the letter that you can fill out to indicate your support. Please return it next week so that we can recognize and thank you for your participation.
I am also asking that you help us with your time and talent. Included in the letter you will receive this week is a volunteer form that talks about a few of our most needed volunteers here at Notre Dame. There are many more ways that you can help, and we would be glad to match you up to a service opportunity that works for you.
Our parish Day of Service is coming up on Saturday, November 21. Please mark you calendars and plan to be a part of this incredible day. We will begin with Mass at 8am, then after a light breakfast, will go out and serve the community and the parish in many ways. It’s a lot of fun, and there are service opportunities for everyone in the family. Sign-up sheets will go up in the Narthex in a couple of weeks.
Jesus told us that whoever wishes to be great among us must be the servant of all. He himself did not think he was above washing the feet of his disciples on his last night on this earth. We are called to follow his ways if we want to follow him to the kingdom. Let’s none of us be afraid of taking that seat at the table and putting on the apron.