At the heart of today’s Gospel reading is the question of whether 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 as Jesus tells them, they didn’t even know what they were 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.
The problem is that service always sounds great to us, until we actually have to do it. Then there are plenty of other opportunities to do something or nothing that stand in our way. We may have the best intentions, but never get around to making them happen. And we all live busy lives, so it’s so easy for us to put those plans to be of service on the back burner.
Or maybe when a service opportunity comes around, we might think, “well, that’s not the way I want to serve.” The project might seem too hard, or too messy, or take too much time. Service always requires something of us. Real service might even require much of us. But if it doesn’t, is it really service at all?
Here’s the thing: As the disciples found out, living in the kingdom was an all or nothing proposition. Places at the right and left of Jesus aren’t just awarded on the basis of one’s good looks or engaging personality. Those disciples, all but one of them, would give their lives for the kingdom and for Christ. That has to be the lens through which we view our own lives of service and discipleship. That has the be the direction that we take our lives.
I got to thinking about people I know who got this. One of the ones I always think about is our family friend Mike. Mike owned the service station that our family used ever since we moved into the suburbs from the city. Mike was the kind of service station owner that, if you came in for a tune up, he’d call and tell you that you didn’t need one and he’d just charge you for two new spark plugs and an oil change to save you some money. He would also often do service on cars for people in need at little or no cost when the parish called him to do it. When he died, there were seven priests at his funeral, and the funeral home and the church were packed. Mike always did what he could to be of service.
I had a funeral on Friday of a man who wasn’t a regular church-goer. But having gone through our parish school, he must have learned enough of what Jesus is calling us to do today, that he was a Navy veteran, a member of the Patriot Guard, a volunteer firefighter, spent weeks cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina, and drove a truckload of water to Saint Louis when the Mississippi River flooded. He did what he could to help people in need.
Jesus in our Gospel reading today is calling us all to come to 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. Honestly, not all of us, probably none of us, will have to give our actual lives for the kingdom. Even if we would have to, I’m not sure we 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.
Yesterday was our “Make a Difference Day.” It was an amazing day where over five hundred of our parishioners came together to do projects in and around the parish. On a beautiful fall Saturday morning, there was some sacrifice involved in giving up that time to make rosaries, rake leaves, give blood, collect donations, help on the mobile food pantry, make mats for the homeless out of old plastic shopping bags, make comfort blankets for Linden Oaks, install memorial bricks on the Stations of the Cross pathway, clean the pews here in church, pray in Adoration or for the unborn at the memorial crosses, and so much more. I’m so grateful to everyone who participated in one way or another! Yesterday was a good start, but there are always opportunities to be of service in big and small ways in our parish and in our community.
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. “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” If that’s true of our Lord, then it has to be true of us who would be his followers.