Reflection for the 29th Sunday. Year B. 2018
– By Fr Ugo Ikwuka
Job applicants know too well that when looking for a job, it is not what you know but whom you know that counts the most – your “connections” as some would say.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, two brothers (James and John) who belong to the innermost circle of Jesus’ disciples try to wield their “connections”. They approached Jesus for a favour. But first they wanted to extract his commitment so they implored: “We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you”.
Things are off to a bad start whenever we relate to God from the perspective of our own plans. Jesus once reminded his disciples: “It was not you who chose me, it was I who chose and commissioned you …” (John 15: 16). In other words, the proper attitude must always be one of “speak Lord your servant is listening”.
Thereafter, they asked that Jesus reserves for them the top two positions in his glory; places at his right and left hands. As the other disciples became angered by the manipulative back-door moves of these brothers, Jesus used the opportunity to address them all on power and honour, the idols of our time, just like riches which he addressed last Sunday.
Power, like money, is not evil in itself, after all, God describes himself as “the Omnipotent” (All Powerful) and Scripture says “power belongs to God” (Psalm 62:11). Many have also used power to get things done. Pope John Paul II used his powerful position to liberate a continent, bringing down the tyranny of communism in his native Poland and beyond.
Honour, on the other hand, is the flag of virtue as Thomas Aquinas submits. In other words, we honour people who have distinguished themselves as a way of highlighting their virtue. Thus, honour is never for the one who is honoured but that others might take notice and be inspired. However, given that man had abused the power granted to him, God radically redefined power.
To give us an example, He stripped himself of his omnipotence; from being “omnipotent,” God made Himself “impotent.” He “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7), thus making power and honour to find expression instead in service.
Our Second Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that in Jesus we have a “great” high priest. He is a great high priest not when he is in a temple built with exotic marble, wearing golden vestments and having people bowing down before him. No. He is our great high priest when he, the priest rather becomes the object of sacrifice, the victim, hanging stark naked on the altar of the cross.
Thus, greatness lies, not in what we have, or in what we can get but in how much we can give of ourselves to others. The two disciples James and John would later achieve glory through martyrdom, through dying in service of the faith, not by any “connections” or back-door deals.
In the Magnificat, Mary sings in anticipation of this silent revolution brought by the coming of Christ: “He has thrown down the mighty from their thrones and raised the lowly” (Luke 1:52). Yet, those who serve among us are often not recognized.
The most important people at events sit at the high tables. At weddings for instance, the groom and the bride, as the most important people, take the centre stage and all eyes are on them. Seated next to them would be other relatively important people; their parents, the best man, the bridesmaid, the sponsors, then other guests. These are all accorded the degree of recognition due to them.
The servers are the least recognised. But who will bring out the food if there were no servers? Certainly not the newlyweds or any of the special guests! In terms of position therefore, the servers would be the last on the list but in terms of function, they are unarguably the most important.
There are also those who work behind the scene, in the kitchen; the cooks and those who assist them. These wouldn’t be seen or recognised yet without them the occasion would fail. I come from a south-eastern Nigeria culture where the poorer you are materially, the more chances you have to be drafted into doing the odd jobs at community events. In fact you don’t wait to be drafted in, your poverty naturally ropes you in.
Yet, service shouldn’t necessarily or literally be understood in terms of the odd jobs or the job of a maid but in the sense that in whatever position or field we find ourselves, we should always have the servant attitude; ready to care, serve and make life better for others with all we’ve got, thinking of others first before ourselves, treating people equally without discriminating.