Martin Luther King used today's text as the basis for one of his most memorable sermons. He titled it “Drum Major Instinct”. This is a desire which we all have, to some degree, to be out front. It is desire to lead the parade, to be first in the eyes of others. Yes, we all aspire to greatness in some form or other. Our society encourages this, doesn't it? Think of all of the awards that are given out annually. Nobel Prizes are given for Physics, Literature and Peace, just to name a few. Each year we see one deserving college football player win the coveted Heisman. There is Teacher of the Year, Employee of the Year and even Yard of the month. Being singled out for achievement is very important to many of us.
So we can easily relate to the disciples, James and John in today’s Gospel. These men had their own vision of greatness. They wanted to sit at the hands of Jesus when he came into his glory, one at His right hand and one at his left. Well, they were given a lesson by Jesus…… a wake-up call…..as to what true greatness really is. Jesus said that greatness begins with a cup of suffering and is achieved through service. He tells them to be careful what they wish for.... because it involves climbing down the ladder, rather than up. One cannot simply be elevated to greatness. They have to earn it by serving and suffering as He did. In one of the most powerful statements in the Gospels, Jesus says “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life for the ransom of all.”
You know, the word “serve” might bother us a little because we tend to associate it with activity which is demeaning. When you think of servanthood, you may think of it as an activity performed by relatively low-skilled people. Consequently, we assume that if we serve, people will lower their view of us. But this is not the case. Think for a moment about the person who has served you more than anyone else in your life. Answers might vary, but most people will automatically respond, “My mother.” Moms seem to be the greatest example of servanthood as they naturally serve the members of their family. Now ask yourself this question...”Do I think less of my mother for having served all these years or do I have a higher view of her?” Well, most would say the latter. People are drawn to those who give sacrificially. I would go as far as to say that Service adds Value to a person. So, we ask today.....what kind of service does Jesus expect of us? Well, Jesus uses the term “service” to include any act that is noble and unselfish, any gesture that affirms and encourages others, any deed that is done with kindness and generosity.
There is a term which has made it into religious circles in recent years: “servant leadership”. It might surprise you that this term originated, not from great theological minds but, from the business world. In 1970, Robert Greenleaf coined the phrase to describe those employers or executives who inspire their employees rather than commanding them. This concept has been espoused by many successful businesses, from Jason's Deli to Wal Mart. But, even though the descriptive name was introduced only recently, it is a concept that was borne with Jesus Christ. Jesus was the original servant leader. He healed the sick and raised the dead. He cured the leper and the blind man. Most importantly, He preached a message of peace, respect and love for all. Jesus's love was unconditional. His love was unselfish. Think about it: He even washed the feet of Judas, the man who would betray Him. The result of this selfless love? People were inspired and began to follow Him. Today there are more Christians on this earth than any other faith. Jesus was a true servant leader, the greatest of all time. In today's Gospel He asks the disciples to imitate this kind of leadership and He is asking us to do the same.
You know, we all have gifts at our disposal which we can put into use to help others. It is not just financial support, although that is important too. It could be something as simple as visiting the sick or lonely, listening and comforting those who need counsel. Even the act of bringing joy to others by making them laugh can be a way of giving service. Our greatest work is often done in little ways. Let us pray today that we receive Jesus' message and find ways to use our individual gifts to serve others. Then, and only then will we achieve a genuine greatness.