It is rather amazing when you think about it – what James and John do. The arrogance of it! Imagine! “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you … Grant us to sit … in your glory.” I can’t envision ever going to any teacher of mine and asking such a thing. Jesus’ final response is an explanation that for James and John and all the apostles, glory will involve service.
For the Christian, greatness is defined by service. We have some sterling examples of that in our tradition and in our lives. Think of people like St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta and the profound example of love and caring she offered to so many on the streets of India; St. Pope John XXIII who visited those incarcerated “since they couldn’t come to visit him” and passionately believed in the equality of all before God as “we are all made in God’s image, and thus all Godly alike;” St. Oscar Romero and his relentless crusade against the poverty, social injustice, assassinations and tortures of his country’s government, which led to his own assassination; and Pope Francis and his famous “‘who am I to judge” comment, who also reminds us that “we are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, where we find ourselves.” (GE#14)
Think of the service of our parents in our own lives – how many sacrifices they made on our behalf, how many times they put our needs and desires ahead of their own. My brother tells the story of Mom using money that she won to buy him new hockey skates, at a time when she didn’t have enough money to buy herself an extra pair of pantyhose. This is a small example, but I have countless others and I know you do too. When it touches us personally, we understand the greatness of service. As adults we recognize how much our parents loved us by these simple gestures of service. Is this why, I wonder, it makes it so hard for us to read of clergy abuse? We expect so much more of our priests than that. Acknowledging they are human, we are still deeply disappointed when instead of being our servants, they are our betrayers. Is it why it is so difficult to tolerate clericalism? Pope Francis says clericalism “not only nullifies the character of Christians,” a character which Jesus tells us should be one of service to others, “but also tends to diminish and undervalue the baptismal grace that the Holy Spirit has placed in the heart of our people.”
There is grave danger when we place anyone on a pedestal. “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.” Servants don’t stand on a pedestal. They get about the work of building the kingdom – it is that which will enable us to sit in glory.
Archdiocese of Moncton, Office of Faith Development