James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Jesus proposes a logic that breaks with the dynamic of imposition and domination that rules the world. He replaces power with service and understands greatness as self-abasement. It’s not a matter of seeking thrones, but of laying aside oneself and giving one’s life in a gesture of gratuitous love for others: “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all” (Mk 10:43-44). Jesus doesn’t want followers seated on thrones, but humble servants who, like him, know how to give their lives with compassion. A person doesn’t become great because of the power he has, the cruelty with which he acts, or the violence with which he asserts himself, but because of his capacity to sacrifice his own interests for the good of all.
Jesus wants the Church always to be at the side of other people, at their feet to serve them, not to be above them so as to dominate them. While others oppress, we relieve and liberate; while others crush, we lift up and help; while others repress and imprison, we denounce oppression and strive for liberation. Our model is Jesus himself, who came “not to be served but to serve” (Mk 10:45). In Jesus, the authority of God was revealed in all its fullness (cf. Mt 28:18), which he always exercised in the service of human beings. In Jesus’s ministry a power was revealed that was never forced upon us and that he never used for his own benefit, but rather was a source of health, liberation, and life (cf. Mk. 6:2).
Jesus envisions us, his disciples, as a group that doesn’t live with ambitions of power, dreams of grandeur, quests for honor, or special privileges. In the Church, no one is above anyone else. Even those of us who hold a position of leadership in the Christian community do not exercise any power, nor are we above anyone else. We are only humble intermediaries for the discernment of God’s will and for the strengthening of communion, in which there is no room for domination or exclusion of any kind. Humble, available, selfless service makes us similar to God’s way of being because God is love and love is humble. Arrogance and the desire to dominate disfigures us as human beings and distances us from God. Those who seek to impose themselves show their pettiness, those who humble themselves in order to serve, reveal their greatness.
Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve (cf. Mk 10:45). This last sentence of the Gospel is the most luminous definition of the existence of Jesus and of the mystery of God. We imagine God to be omnipotent and all-powerful, yet God revealed himself in Jesus on the cross as the servant par excellence. God has not remained high and lofty but has lovingly come down to us, concerned for what we need, eager to heal our wounds and strengthen us with his consolation.
St. John of the Cross reminds us that “God’s purpose is to exalt the soul” (Living Flame of Love 2. 3). That is why he came down, “so profound is the humility and sweetness of God” (Spiritual Canticle 27. 1). Let’s ask the Lord for the grace to be like him. Only when we adopt an existence like that of God, who in Jesus came “not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45), will we be happy; thus we will bring the love of God into our midst and collaborate in making the world more humane.
Silvio José Báez, O.C.D.
Auxiliary Bishop of Managua
Homily, 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time (excerpt)
17 October 2021
John of the Cross, St. 1991, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, Revised Edition, translated from the Spanish by Kavanaugh, K and Rodriguez, O with revisions and introductions by Kavanaugh, K, ICS Publications, Washington DC.
All scripture references are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America as accessed from the Bible Gateway website.
Featured image: This 17th c. French oil painting from the Stuard Museum in Parma, Italy comes to us thanks to the Flickr collection of jean louis mazieres. The Adoration of the Shepherds (1640-1660) was executed in oil on canvas. Although scholars have attempted to identify the artist, his or her identity remains a mystery to this day (Some rights reserved).