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It’s Not About Power and Prestige

September 22, 2018

This little calf was hanging out with the rest of the herd in our neighborhood a couple of weeks ago. A portion of the Gospel reading includes Jesus’ words: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me…” (Mark 9:37a) I am thinking that Jesus would say the same about our neighbors also!

Sadly, the herd had some uninvited “guests” who in their eagerness to take pictures tonight got the big Bull Elk ticked off and it wasn’t a fun evening for the herd or for their true neighbors who understand and respect them. The Cows and the little ones hurried and scurried about as the Bull bugled, tore up our tree, and charged a couple of tourists and cars. He smartly didn’t attack, but I believe that he got his point across!

There are some parallels between the herd and the visitors and the Gospel reading for tomorrow. Much like the tourists didn’t get what was going on with the herd, so too the disciples didn’t get what was going on in the recent teachings of Jesus about his impending crucifixion. Yes, I know that the comparison is not exactly apples to apples, but the point is that the disciples hadn’t a clue about what Jesus was telling them when he told them “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” (Mark 9:31b)

Before that, as the writer of Mark relates it, Jesus had foretold his death and talked about how the disciples must take up their crosses and follow him. Those who save their lives will lose them and those who lose their lives for his sake will gain them. Okay, that is enough to keep the twelve stumped and wondering for quite some time. Not to mention that whole “get behind me Satan” thing that happened after Peter tried to talk Jesus out of the path that he was on! So as the disciples followed Jesus along the road to Capernaum, an argument broke out amongst the twelve.

When Jesus asked them what they were arguing about, I can imagine them hanging their heads down, not looking Jesus in the eyes, and kicking the dirt like a little kid who had been caught doing something wrong by their parents. Yes, that happened to me a few times when I was growing up, but as an only child, I had no one else to blame but myself. Even when the cat did it (I swear the cat did!), I was blamed. Anyhow, the disciples, caught in the act of arguing amongst themselves, were asked point blank by Jesus what was going on.

So, how do you explain to the teacher who had just told them about his own impending death that you were arguing over who would be the greatest and in charge when Jesus was gone? You explain it very sheepishly. Instead of berating them or making them go to their room, Jesus brings a little child into their midst. What was so strange about that? Well, a child was not an adult, and was not very important to society or the family until they could be productive and either earn their keep or be the heir to the family business. I remember hearing the phrase years ago, “Children are to be seen, but not heard.” I don’t know the origins of that saying, but I have seen it put into play far too often in churches. You know… oh we have a special place for children during worship… they make too much noise and we don’t want them in worship with us. Not a very good message to send to the child or to their parents if you ask me.

Anyway, the point was that Jesus brought a little child into their midst to yet again teach the disciples. Deny yourselves… put aside your selfish ambitions… think of others before you think about yourself… the last shall be first and the first shall be last…. These were the lessons Jesus was teaching his disciples as he embraced lepers, ate dinner with sinners, and challenged the fraud and injustice in the religious system.

I am certain that this wasn’t the first time the disciples had heard Jesus teaching about the upside down economy in God’s kingdom. And they had witnessed him challenging the religious ruling elite and the Empire about their misplaced values and priorities. The religious elite liked to parade around in their fine robes and sit at the head table at banquets.

The bottom line that this passage reveals to me this time around is that we need to check egos at the door and truly consider what being a Christ-follower is all about. As a brand new Chaplain Candidate, Second Lieutenant, I quickly learned that the gold bars I wore really weren’t as important as I thought they were. I certainly wasn’t able to lord it over anyone and I had zip in the power and prestige department. That didn’t mean that I wasn’t a part of a team or that I wasn’t there to learn how to lead, it just meant that I wasn’t in charge!

As I rose through the ranks from Second Lieutenant to First Lieutenant to Captain to Major and finally to Lieutenant Colonel in the Chaplain Corps, I was always learning and there was always someone who was higher ranking that me. Some of the best Commanders and Senior Ranking Chaplains that I worked for and with through the years were the ones who were true servant leaders. It was always about the team and not about them. They led by example and the lowest ranking Airman was just as important as the most senior ranking Officer. They gave credit and praise when things went well and when they didn’t, they took responsibility as the leader.

That has also been a good lesson for ministry throughout the years. It isn’t about me… it isn’t about power or prestige… it is all about walking with others through challenges and joys… walking with others through the Valley of the Shadows without feeling like you have to have all of the answers or the right pithy sayings to get them through it…. In short, as Jesus taught the disciples, it isn’t about being the greatest! It’s about others and not yourself. It is about serving God by serving others.

So, dear reader, I find it liberating to know that it isn’t all about me! I find it liberating that I don’t have to be the greatest. I find it liberating that God simply calls me to listen and to serve. When we take our focus off of ourselves and put it on others, we become the instruments of God’s peace that St Francis of Assisi wrote about so long ago. God is calling you and calling me… will we serve ourselves or will we serve the Lord by serving others? After all, in the words of Bob Dylan, “You’ve got to serve somebody.”

  1. Virginia carroll permalink

    Philippians 2:3

  2. Wise words, Padre! Thank you for sharing your heart and revealing the humble, compassionate servant attitude it already has. Bless you, Michael. 🙂

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