The Servant of All
In this touching homily for 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Father Hanly reminds us that we are here to serve and that in serving we enter into the heart of God.
Readings for Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
- First Reading: Wisdom 2:17-20
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 54:3-4, 5, 6-8
- Second Reading: James 3:16–4:3
- Gospel: Mark 9:30-37
I’m sure you remember from the gospel last Sunday that the disciples with Jesus have begun on a journey, a journey that begins in the north of Palestine, in a place where the gods and goddesses of the Baal were worshipped, and will end up in Jerusalem.
One of the unique aspects of this journey is that Jesus is not preaching to the people anymore. He’s made up his mind — and has set himself space to do so — and he is going to teach and mould his disciples in the ways of the Messiah.
And so it is that he begins to march towards his Passion and his death.
And the first thing he says to his disciples is: the Son of Man in going to Jerusalem will help hand him over to men that will kill him, and then he will rise on the third day.
And Mark, who was in the company of these disciples, says nobody understood what he was talking about and they were frightened to ask him what he meant.
And so they came down and they arrived in Capharnaum of Galilee and they went into the house.
Now “into the house” is a catchword for when Jesus is going to speak the great secrets of the Gospel. He’s going to teach his disciples individually and he wants them to understand and to know that he has come as the Messiah to change their lives — first them and then the whole world.
And as they’re sitting there, Jesus says to them, “What were you discussing along the road?”
And they say, because they’re very ashamed of it, but they admit they were discussing who was the best among them, who was number one, who was in first place.
And you can see Mark, who comes from Rome now, with Peter and many communities along the way, you could see that Jesus’ answer was going to be a lesson, not only for his disciples who are with him in the house, but for all time.
And this is what Jesus says to them:
“If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
And then he took a child and he put the child in their midst.
And we know what children are like. Children have their many, many difficulties, exasperations. And they are impetuous and demanding sometimes.
But we know that children basically are innocent. Children trust. Children have hope. And children love very easily. So easily that parents have to warn their children not to go after strangers who smile and offer them some kind of affection.
Children are spontaneous. Children find it easy to forgive. Children do not really have too much trouble forgiving people and accepting people, other little children, as maybe we adults have, who actually move out of whole neighbourhoods not to be associated with many of the people that we are afraid we’ll end up being associated with.
I say these things because I’d like to say two things about… I’d like to tell two stories about what Jesus is dealing with.
Perhaps some of you have seen the little ad bit on television about a race that took place in the United States. It was a true story. It took place, I believe, in the United States, or one of the other countries, and it was a race in a town, in a village, where all the children of the village had their own racing day.
And, of course, they had a special race for the handicapped, and so, after the other kids who were hail and healthy finished, they had the race for the handicapped.
There were seven runners in the race for the handicapped. And they all started out. And they began kind of moving as fast as they could, depending on their handicaps. And they were going along.
And they got about a third or a half of the way and one of them fell down. And they ran on ahead a little bit. And the boy who fell down was banging his head on the ground, he was probably so ashamed.
And, all of a sudden, almost as one, they turned around and they ran back to the little boy and picked him up and shouldered him, one under each shoulder, and got him to his feet. And all seven began to go to the finish line and each waited for the other and they all crossed the finish line at the same time.
And there was a great silence in the crowd. They had never seen a race like this. This would be a race to end all races. And they knew what had happened. And a great cheer went up and a great feeling of: “Yes, this is the proper way to run a race.”
This story would be a story that Jesus, if he had heard it, would have told to his disciples.
We’re not in a race for prizes in life. We are in life not for achieving, not for becoming wealthy, not for becoming nobles, not for becoming all different and wearing the clothes of the well-to-do and people who are considered a rung above everybody else.
We are here, as Jesus says, to serve. The word in Hebrew, the word in Greek, that they’re translating kindly for us into “serve” says you must become slaves, because in that world, those who served were slaves and those who were slaves served everyone else.
The handicapped children had it right. They went to serve each other because they need each other. And this is the way they will learn to love each other and care for each other. And when they learn to care for each other, then it doesn’t matter if you are handicapped, because you have support and love and caring.
And all the people and all the famous celebrities in the world would give everything they have to be able to say that they are loved and they love, they are cared for and they are appreciated, not for what they might dream they might be, some advertisement, but because as human beings this is their right.
Jesus has come to tell the disciples that you must become servants. And what you serve, and when you serve, you must give everything you have when you serve, and not look for anything in return.
And why does he say this?
Because this is the way God is. God serves. And this is the way Jesus is trying to be as a human being, giving his Father service by serving all the people that come into his life.
So the great lesson that Mark is telling us is we must remember that we’re not here to achieve, although achievement is a very important thing. We are not here to be in competition with each other, although we all enjoy a game of football now and then. But we are here to become conscious of the needs of the people around us and see how well we might serve them. For in serving, Jesus says, we enter into the heart of God.
Many, many people have kind of walked away from God in recent years, perhaps, in the official ways and that. But I have never met someone who I think of as a real servant of God — someone that, when you see them in the ordinariness of their daily lives, are the kind of people that Jesus is talking about, the anawim, the people who forget themselves in order to serve others — I have never met one of them who has fallen away.
Because what Jesus is saying is, “I have come to change the world.”
But the way to changing the world is to give you the way and the only way that the world can be changed, and that is when each and every one of us becomes a servant, a self-sacrificing servant.
And then, the world will have such new life, all of us will find the proper place in our proper home and the fulfillment of the dream that we all have when we are born.
For “the dream you dream is God’s dream, and the house you build is God’s house, and the love with which you love each other is God’s love, and that is the heart of the matter.”*