Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How do we know if we have a servant’s heart? By how we act when we are treated like one

The most powerful weapon to conquer the devil is humility. For, as he does not know at all how to employ it, neither does he know how to defend himself from it.--Saint Vincent de Paul

Gospel text (Mk 9,30-37):
Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee,
but he did not wish anyone to know about it.
He was teaching his disciples and telling them,
"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."
But they did not understand the saying,
and they were afraid to question him.

They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house,
he began to ask them,
"What were you arguing about on the way?"
But they remained silent.
For they had been discussing among themselves on the way
who was the greatest.
Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them,
"If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all."
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."

Rankings! Ratings! Polls! Surveys! Standings! Our culture thrives on these measures. We constantly argue about who is most important (Mk 9:34). We have political approval polls, opinion polls, talk shows, sports standings, Most Valuable Players, Nielsen ratings of TV shows, Fortune 500 companies, and even TV shows which rank who is worthy to "survive" another week at the expense of eliminating someone else. However, our modern culture is not the first to be obsessed about ranking. The apostles on several occasions fell into this trap of rivalry. It's part of our fallen human nature (Jas 4:5). If we continue to live by the world's competitive standards, we will destroy ourselves or at least "vote each other off the island"! (see Gal 5:15)

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus has to have a discussion with his disciples about humility. When Jesus confronted them about their argument, they were ashamed. Sitting down, Jesus tells them this: “Anyone who wants to be first must be the last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35) Oh, how often we think we are better than everyone else, even though we are not! The ego is much easier to inflate than a balloon, but pops just as quickly when pricked with shame. The easiest way to avoid this is simply to follow this message: Be the servant of all. We must not be preoccupied with who is the best. Rather, we should think about ways to serve, and about how Christ is working within.

The modern, competitive world makes this rather difficult to do, and this is indeed frustrating. However, what might be even more frustrating is the competition that takes place within ourselves: the competition between desires. I want this, I want that. I want to do great things, and yet strangely, sometimes I want to do things that are terrible and not great in any way.

Where does the desire for God fall in with this internal war?

If only my desire for God won out in every single instance; then I would stop wasting time wondering where I stand in competition with others and spend much more time thinking about love, both divine and human, and how to submit to Christ’s workings within me.

Love and Christ ought to always win when in competition with hubris, and the only way for that to happen in every instance is to be “the servant of all.”

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