Thursday, June 25, 2009

The greatest among you must become like the youngest, the leader like one who serves

A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

‘You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

- Luke 22:24-30

In this passage we read some key ideas about hierarchies - about what that means in terms of Jesus' kingdom and the relatedness or relationships he wishes to establish among his followers.

Jesus has just declared that he is to be betrayed, but seemingly at his annunciation of this new kingdom, all the apostles can do is debate among themselves who's going to be in charge, who will be the top man. Sadly an indication of our own understanding of hierarchy and rank, Jesus sets them right by announcing a sense of service that turns these common earthly or human notions of rank on their heads. His own idea of relatedness is to serve one another. He goes even further than that, the one who would be greatest among them is the one who must serve all.

Jesus says here that it's part of the "ways of the Gentiles" that kings and the greatest Lord it over the others. He says that those in high positions are called benefactors, and we're given to understand that this is a mere title, while practice essentially means something else. This is a call to understand the nature of relations within his kingdom, his vision of what he wants his followers to be, and we need to pay heed to this as much today as ever.

Given the sensibilities taught in this central book of literature 2,000 years later, we too call our leaders "public servants." Christ has instituted an ideal to live up to; we consider those whom we elect or put in high office to be responsible for acting for the greater good. Corruption is when they "Lord it over" the rest of us, or call themselves benefactors while benefiting themselves! We can think of many issues in which leaders of various types of public institutions behave with corruption, without really living up to the responsibility given to them. But Christ's institution goes much deeper into notions of service and responsibility than even our high-minded public notions of service. The one who is greatest must be the one who serves. Think about that. Service, in this notion, is indeed the mark of the leader, the character itself of leadership, of greatness - in Jesus' case, even heroism. Can we possibly value service, in our daily relationships with others, as something that confers the status of greatness? Could we envision that vision?

Furthermore, what does it mean exactly to serve? Here, Jesus elaborates that he will share his very kingdom with those who have shared his trials with him. All of his apostles have been through hardship with him, and will continue in hardship working for the kingdom when he is gone. A spiritual kingdom that is to come is one in which he will share his own power with those who've stood by him and been through his trials with him. So, I think we're given, here, to understand the nature of Spirit, of spiritual reality. This isn't a reality just like the one of hierarchies and rank that we live every day as a "worldly" reality, but one instead where spiritual power multiplies and shares itself with those who choose to participate in it. Just like the loaves and the fishes, the bread of this Eucharist is to multiply itself, to feed all, to share with all. We can each participate, and we will each be gifted with grace which we can share, serving others and something beyond ourselves. We can then experience this hierarchy of service as greatness for ourselves. Do you have a special grace in your life? Is there a place where you can relate to something or someone as in this kingdom?

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