This Sunday’s scriptures are providing some pretty strong counsel for me – and maybe others like me in similar positions. I’ve always been ambitious – I’ve had lofty goals to become a professor, to write, and more. I’m also now a department chairperson, in an administrative role where I have authority over some other people. (Some might even say that it is a position of “glory” though I would not myself say so – and I imagine most department chairs would hold similar views as mine.) I am a parent, also, which comes with some authority in relation to raising children.
So here is Jesus, reminding me:
You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the GentilesVerses 42-45
lord it over them,
and their great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you.
Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.
For the Son of Man did not come to be served
but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.
It’s not like today’s scriptures catch me by surprise – I’ve long known that Jesus seeks out people who are not in obvious positions of power and glory. He seeks out fishermen and tax collectors and people like Zaccheus. Those who have power and glory and wealth – well, they tend to seek him (the rich young ruler, the centurion, etc) and he gives them often difficult answers.
It’s also not like Jesus always discourages ambition (“Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”) or positions of authority (“You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my house.”)
So I see today’s scriptures are much more about how to live as people who have a little (or a lot of) authority and maybe some ambition. We are asked to recall who Jesus is and who we are therefore called to be. We are also given some spirit consolation in this difficult endeavor to be servants who may have some authority.
Today’s first reading from Isaiah confronts us with the stark reality of who our Lord Jesus Christ is. The passage should remind us of Good Friday, for it is (in longer form) the reading for the day. Jesus is the Suffering Servant who “bore the sins of many and interceded for the transgressors.” Christians see this passage decisively as naming Jesus who dies on a cross for us. Therefore the authority that the Ruler of the Cosmos has is to show utmost care and love for those who have done wrong, fallen short, committed sins against others.
The Gospel reminds us that we who have claimed Christ must also claim a life and death like his. Contrary to the apostles James and John – who ambitiously seek to be seated with Jesus – Jesus reminds them and us that if we wish to be like Jesus, we must seek to serve others.
That’s easier to say than to do – especially in positions of authority. We may want to be loving but we do not necessarily know how best to do that. We want to help – but we may have radically wrong ideas how to do that.
To do authority (and ambition) well means to remember that moral life never comes to an end. Moral life is always about seeking to be loving in better ways. Doing authority also means seeking to do better consistently and constantly.
That is lifelong work – just as being a disciple of Jesus is lifelong work.
So we are given some consolation in the epistle reading:
We do not have a high priestHebrews 4:15-16
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but one who has similarly been tested in every way,
yet without sin.
So let us confidently approach the throne of grace
to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.:
Let us seek God’s grace as we seek to follow Christ.