Fr. Paul's Homily
Do you want to hear another story from my daily Mass lady? The one who gives me the jokes!! Bill Graham tells the story about his early ministry when he was in a distant town and wanted to mail a letter at the post office. He saw a young boy on the street and asked, “Son, do you know where the post office is?” After the boy gave Billy Graham directions to the post office, Bill Graham ask him, “Son, do you want me to help you find Jesus in your life?” The little boy said, “Sir, if you cannot even find the post office, I don’t think you can help me find Jesus!!”
If you want the right directions, you have to ask the right person! Today, Jesus gives us directions on how to be his follower, his disciple. He says, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Today I would like to explore these directions with you.
Jesus was known as a preacher and a healer. But in Mark’s Gospel we are only one chapter away from the experiences of Holy Week, so Jesus is becoming very serious in his teachings. He has pulled away from the crowds and is only speaking to his disciples; “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” This teaching is central to Jesus mission in life, but the disciples are not eager to hear this. Even though they are not sure of what it means, they choose not to ask questions. Maybe it is because they had seen how Jesus had reacted to Peter when he told Peter, “Get behind me Satan.” Maybe they didn’t ask because they didn’t want to know the answer.
Have you ever not wanted to know the answer? How many people have put off going to the doctor because they did not want to know the answer? We all have the tendency to not ask questions when the answers might be difficult to hear.
What did the disciples do? They go in the opposite direction and begin to argue about who among them was the most important. Was it Peter? Was it John? Was it James? Jesus was talking about dying; the apostles are talking about being the greatest. Do you see the contradiction? When Jesus confronts them on their conversation he gives this teaching, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last to all and the servant of all.”
First, notice that Jesus does not say it is bad to want to be first, but he challenges them on “Why” and “How” they want to be first. Being first in Jesus’ Kingdom will not be about power and glory; rather it will be about serving those who need us the most. Greatness in Jesus’ eyes will relate to caring for the least among us, not with the size of the house, the quality of the clothes or the speed of the car.
In the Greek language, Mark uses the word, “diakonos” for servant and not the word, “Doulos,” which can also be interpreted as slave. The word, “diakonos” suggests one who attends to the needs of others freely and willingly. This is quite in contrast to “doulos” which refers to one who acts in servitude and under obligation and compulsion. This is an important distinction. We are to serve God and others freely and joyfully out of a sense of love, not a sense of compulsion or fear.
Jesus wants us to be his followers.
Jesus wants his followers to serve those in need.
As Jesus’ followers, we should serve with freedom and joy.
Have you ever visited St. Vincent de Paul on a warehouse day? It is an amazing place that accomplishes so much for the needy of this city. But working at the warehouse can actually be fun! Why? Because of the attitude that people have who work there. All are there to serve; they are there to be Christ to others; they are there to work with friends and to make some friends; they are there with gratitude for what they have been given. Can you imagine people walking around the warehouse groaning, “I’m here because I have to be here!” Or, “I’m here because I feel guilty all the time.” While there might be times when obligation and guilt are appropriate, they should not be the found for serving others.
If service is offered freely, it will bring peace and joy.
Do you remember Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s Restaurant? An adopted child who never finished high school, Dave’s picture in the corporate annual report has him wielding a mop and a bucket! It wasn’t a gag, but a leadership by example. Dave Thomas always said he had an MBA; not a Master of Business Administration, but a Mop Bucket Attitude…MBA! Dave Thomas was committed to service, freely given with joy.
Returning to the Gospel, I love how this story ends. Jesus puts a child in the midst of the apostles, puts his arms around the child and says, “Whoever receives on child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”
It seems that Jesus is offering us a powerful insight into what it means to be a servant of others. In this example of the little child, Jesus is saying that true servanthood focuses upon how we see others, not a negation of how we see ourselves. When one thinks of how service usually occurs, we serve those who are greater than us: people are at the service of the President; people are at the service of the mayor, the governor, the bishop. What Jesus is proposing is that the least significant of our society, in Jesus’ case it was a child, is to be seen as the Almighty God, and thus is worthy of our service. As Jesus said, when you see the child, you see me; and when you see me, you are really seeing the Lord God who sent me.
So true service is built around how we see others. If Pope Francis would suddenly decide that he was coming to Indianapolis and wanted to stay as a guest in your house, how would you feel? How would you react? You would probably put out your best china, put the best sheets on the guest bedroom (or give him your bedroom); you will prepare your best meal for him. And my guess is that you would do it gladly for you would realize the tremendous privilege in having the pope as your guest.
Too often when we are called to serve, we are absorbed with ourselves, rather than seeing the other as God-among-us. Many times when I am anticipating a meeting with someone, I might be focusing upon myself…what I’m going to say, how I might advise the person. Perhaps the real call is to focus upon the person and who they are, and simply allow God to work through me.
Let us recall Jesus’ key words here: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Let us be servants who give with joy and freedom. “Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.’”