1.Isaiah 53:10-11
2.Hebrews 4:14-16

"Willingness to serve"

There is a story of a man who promised his children  who were in Primary school that he would buy a bicycle  for any of his kids that would take the first position in their respective classes. By the end of the term they brought their results home. His eldest child and only son  who happened to be in a different primary school from others came home with a result indicating a first position! The amazement was high because the boy in question never came close  to the 15th position in the class of 25th children. His father looked  at the result closely to see if it bore his name and for sure it was really his name and the position was first. The man was very glad but skeptical at the same time. He did not want to fail his promise but at the same time he wanted to be sure that his son really came first in the class. He decided to take the boy to the shop to buy bicycle for him but silently decided to stop by his son's teacher's house to ascertain the credibility of the result. 

On reaching the teacher's house they met him on his way out. No sooner had the boy's father started saying a word, than the teacher started scolding the boy for his poor performance of 21st out of 25. The man was shocked! He brought out the results was holding and handed it over  to the teacher. The teacher was shocked too and after careful examination he discovered that the little boy doctored his results by careful removing the "2" and leaving 1st . What however he failed to do was to change the teacher's remark which the father did not notice because of his level of literacy and which read "very weak pass mark hard to improve!"

The desire to be great seems to be a very central factor in human life. A careful reading of the world history will show that it is all about the struggle for power, influence, position, supremacy and greatness. It is evident that from the First World War to the current uprising in Syria the story is the same; the struggle  to be and remain in power. Have you ever noticed why some people, tribes and nations attach "Great" to their names? The likes of Alexander the Great, Great Britain, Great Roman Empire, Great Wall of China etc. The simple answer is  that they intend to create standards; an effort to establish inequality, the desire to create superiority as opposed to inferiority. This seems to run throughout the course of our existence.

The desire to be great start with us little children when we engage ourselves in little competitions to know who gets the first position. It could be in race, recitations, dancing and a lot more. In fact you can only reckon any of your playmates to be greater than you after series of competitions. We grow with this disposition as we mature.

It may not be surprising for us to discover that the two famous brothers , James and John came to Jesus Christ to make a request. They actually came to our Lord to lobby for positions at his right hand and his left hand in his Glory. This means that they were sure of the glorious moment. There is a clear indication that the apostles still did not fully grasp the identity and mission of Jesus Christ. They were still assuming him to be a political messiah; a worldly king. We remember very well that the argument struggling for power and greatness began in Mark 9:33-37, when they were arguing among themselves as to who was the greatest. Jesus did settle the situation for them, but the occurrence of of this ultimate search for foremost positions by James and John showed that the quest for greatness did not end after our Lord's instructions.

The two brothers were ambitious like most people in our contemporary societies, where people get into positions based on who knows- who syndrome. The answer our Lord Jesus Christ gave to the two brothers showed that there is a due process to greatness. In our technology driven human society,computers and other devices give us shortcuts as options in some operating systems. Consequently most of us have linked that idea of shortcut to other spheres of life. Today people want to get rich without working for it. People want to rise to great heights without drudgery of climbing a ladder, people want to get into the promised land without passing through the desert, and people want to wear the crown without carrying the cross. There is no Easter without good Friday.
Mahatma Gandhi Summarized these  dispositions in his seven deadly sins of the modern World:

  • Wealth without Work.
  • Pleasure without Conscience.
  • Science without Humanity.
  • Knowledge without Character.
  • Politics without Principle.
  • Commerce without Morality.
  • Religion without Sacrifice.

It is good to ambitious but only if our ambition is on eternal values ( Matt 11:12). Furthermore our ambition must go through a due process. For instance the awarding of a government contract involves a set of rules and formalities which a bidder and  must adhere to. The same thing is applicable to greatness in divine sphere. One must necessarily pass through some corridors which may not really be all sweet and rosy.

Often we can only reach the place God has appointed for us through series of disappointments. The first reading from Isaiah ( 53:10-11) tells us that it is the will of God that his servant be bruised; experience grief and suffering as the due process that will lead  to the salvation of all. If you examine the bible very well you will discover that  God's appointment to positions of greatness would always  follow a due process. Abraham's rise to the status of father of a great nation took a due process spanning up to twenty-five years( Gen.12:2). Joseph's appointment to greatness came after series of disappointments that started with his brothers ( Gen 37:18). The promised land was realized after due process of forty years in the desert ( Joshua 5:6). After being anointed king, David had to pass through a due process of fighting with Goliath and out -doing Saul before he could sit on the throne ( 1Sam17:45; 19:10). To redeem us our Lord Jesus had to follow the due process of passion and death. 

Have you ever taken a moment to look at your Fingers? have you ever wondered why the thumb is separate from the rest of four fingers of your hand?
The story is told of five brothers and sisters. The parents entrusted to the eldest all their wealth and resources with the instruction that he take care of his brothers and sisters in their absence. But as the story goes, the eldest all what was left by their parents for himself and did not share with his brothers and sisters. Instead of serving them he lorded over them. The selfishness of the thumb angered his brothers and sisters. The four retaliated by distancing themselves from him. Yes the thumb had all the wealth, but he lost his brothers and sisters.

These are all about wealth and money which separate us from one another and from God. Jesus in today gospel is announcing his manifestos which is all about his coming passion and death as part of his mission. However, the proposal Jesus makes to his disciples does not in fact make sense in the minds of his twelve apostles. For them, the idea is that when Jesus rules the world and since they are his associates, Jesus will select them as his ministers of different important positions in His Kingdom. Jesus turns his apostles' lack of understanding into an occasion to focus on another essential aspect of discipleship. His disciples are not called into a position of power, but rather they are called to serve. They are not called  to a position to rule over other people but leadership through service which is popularly known today in the management world as leadership by example. Jesus said: "whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant..... For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.......", ( Mark 10:35-45)

The theme of willingness to serve is the very core of missionary mandate. The ideal missionary is so devoted to the good of the people whom s/he is sent to serve that they plan both  their activities and their life-style to match the real needs of those people. In this context, in order for the missionaries to serve as it is wanted, thus there is a huge effort of adaptation and inculturation that should be involved so that the gospel values can be integrated into the lives of people.
In our word, where most of the celebrities highlighted in the media seem motivated by self-interest and self -assertion Jesus' call to total service seems unrealistic, and, one might think, unlikely to succeed. However, in our today's gospel we learn the ideal dedication to the service of others as fundamental to Christian discipleship. Jesus came, "not to be served but to serve." and this example must always be guiding light for his followers. This is why those who believe in him are challenged to give themselves, their talents and their time, to the service of others without seeking any other reward or self interests.

What should we pray for? 

It is the experience of us all that sometimes we have had the experience of asking for something  and not getting it. That experience begins in childhood when we begin to learn the difficult lesson that others do not automatically respond to our wants and whims. In adolescence we discover that our peers are not mirror images of ourselves and do not always behave and respond to us in the way we want them to. In adulthood we learn the delicate art of compromise when what we want and what others want come into conflict with each other. We also discover that in our relationship with God our prayers are not always answered, even when they focus not on ourselves but on others and their well being. The experience of u answered prayer can be a real challenge to our faith.

In today's gospel, James, and John come before Jesus with a prayer of petition they ask him, ' allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.' The previous time Mark the evangelist had depicted James and John together were on the mount of transfiguration with Peter. There they had an experience of Jesus in his glory, flanked by Moses and Elijah. James and John understood this experience as an anticipation of what was to come, and in the future they wanted the places occupied by Moses and Elijah. 

Mark emphasizes the inappropriateness of this request of this request of James and John by placing it immediately after the third announcement by Jesus of his coming passion and death, ' the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the gentiles......'(Mk 10:33-34). As Jesus declares that he is shortly to be humbled, James and John ask Jesus that they be exalted. Here is the prayer that  has far too much of 'self ' in it. It is not the prayer that Jesus can respond to. Sometimes our own prayers can have a lot of 'self ' in them, even when they are prayers for others. One dimension of growing up into the person of Jesus is learning to pray as he prays, entering into ongoing prayer to the Father. It is the only Holy Spirit who can enable our prayer to harmonize with that of the risen Lord.

In response to the brothers' requests of Jesus, he makes his own request of them, ' Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptized with the baptism with which I must be baptized?' Jesus is presented in the gospel as asking many questions. In our gospel today, one point to learn is that as Jesus asks us many questions, the only thing is to remain pondering on them and meditating on these questions. A very different form of prayer to the prayer of petition is to listen to the various petitions that Jesus addresses to us and, having listened, to respond honestly from the depth of our heart.

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Chapisha Maoni