There are many teachings in the Gospel in terms of how we should behave that go against the human grain. We all aspire to be great in life only to be told that to be great we must become a servant, where to be first we must be slave to all. When we reflect deeper on this passage, we realize that it is not wrong to aspire to be great. Every saint is great, Christ glorious! The message here is how we can go about attaining this greatness.
And many of these teachings seem to go against our nature. Competition amongst humans is natural. Competition leads to learnings and progress. It does make us better. The first disciples as we read in this passage were competitive. James and John, quite innocently, wanted the highest honor. When the rest found out they were indignant towards the pair. They were outraged because they felt James and John tried to sneak one behind them. They were all competitive; all wanting to be first and great.
I travelled this weekend and stopped at a coastal village. Two fishermen were mending their nets. They could have been James and John. Others were doing their own thing, some sizing up the clams, others trying to sell the catch. Was there competition here? There surely was. They had to compete to survive. My mind wandered to the time of the first disciples. Jesus had plucked them out of their jobs, and so they obviously came along with all they had learnt in life.
When we aspire to be greater in our faith life, we are responding to being called by Christ through the Holy Spirit. We are invited to be in glory. Like the disciples we will arrive at that moment with a lot of baggage accumulated throughout life. Like the fishermen sorting out the catch, some we must discard. We must keep the fire and passion that makes us competitive. It will teach and progress us towards greatness. Once we have encountered Christ, we will re-define what greatness of life is. Once that is re-defined, we will have to recalibrate our methods of attaining it.
Passages in the Gospel teaches us these methods. They are only unnatural because worldly life has shaped us to go the other way. Serving one another is also natural. I saw it at the coastal village as we would all see in the many events of our life. We have all serve and were served. We see it clearer when we live life against the odds or when the curve of affluence is much flatter.
Serving the other is second nature to true love. Every parent makes sacrifices at their own expense for their child. The greatest wish of any parent is actually not to be loved in return but to see their children pass on the love to others. This is natural too.
What do we want in life? Happiness, purpose, peace, and fulfilment? Because of our human nature we are not sure. We want our cake and eat it too. But our Creator who made us know the greatness and glory we truly want. He has also said that in his house there are many rooms. Competition in worldly life often mean one winner. In our faith, God wills all of us to be great and glorious. In the Gospel, he tells us the methods to attain it but emphasize the non-compete clause. We must serve one another.
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time