Today’s readings provide us very contrasting images. On the one hand, we have the image of the mother of James and John. Make my sons powerful. Which one of us is the greatest? How can we lord it over others? On the other hand, is the image presented in the first reading in the gospel. “Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.” Recognizing the treasure within will bring about suffering, and perhaps even death.
Power and service. Even a quick look at the world around us shows us there is a tremendous difference between being rich and powerful, and being of service. It becomes quite apparent when we consider salaries given to those who work in high finance or business, as compared to those salaries given to teachers, social workers, police officers or firefighters. We cannot forget those types of jobs that appear almost completely undesirable. Garbage collectors for example. Most parents do not have aspirations for their children to become garbage collectors. It can be easy to take for granted those in the service professions. Those who check out our groceries, weighed in our tables, or those who prepare food.
Today’s readings provide us with a warning about the role and purpose of our Christian faith. We certainly see those who benefit greatly from their faith in a material way. Today’s readings remind us that authentic faith is not about becoming rich or powerful, but rather recognizing that we are frail that we are called to serve. Over and over again we hear about God’s concern that we care for the most vulnerable, the most marginalized, the most desperate. It is not the case but we ignore proclaiming the good news to the rich, but it is the case that we recognize that if we use our own faith as a pathway to power and status, we have missed the point of our faith altogether.
Such is I believe, the intent of Pope Francis and reminding shepherds to smell like the sheep. The life of faith is not about being offices, fancy homes, or a lavish lifestyle. It is not about dining in fine restaurants, and you most certainly is not about getting ahead. No, in the first reading we hear what awaits those who seek to live a life of faith.
We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.
For we who live are constantly being given up to death
for the sake of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
So death is at work in us, but life in you.
In all we do, we must strive to imitate the Lord Jesus. And what does that mean? It means that sometimes we need this reminder: “Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”