Look at me, serve me, I want, are attitudes and dispositions that tempt us to varying degrees. Fame, honor, power, prestige may be another way of making the same point, which is that we often have a hyper-focus on self and self-promotion. Social media offers more of a platform to fuel this temptation. If we think this is something new with the advent of modern technology, we can look at today’s reading from the writer of Matthew to see that we have been operating from this posture for a very long time.
Jesus, for the third time, was attempting to prepare his disciples for his passion. He said: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day” (Mt 20:18-19).
The response of the mother of James and John (the two brothers make the request themselves in the Gospel of Mark) is actually not that surprising if we spend any time with people. She disregards what Jesus just mentioned about his imminent death and requests that when Jesus assumes his seat of power that her two sons will be number one and number two. The other disciples were quite indignant and I can imagine what followed was not a pretty sight.
Jesus shares directly with the brothers that to give them a place at his right and left “is for those for whom it has been prepared for my Father” (Mt 20:23). He addresses them all by letting them know that the preeminent place in his kingdom, whoever is to be first, is the one who serves his brother and sister.
Jesus is encouraging us this Lent to resist the temptations of power, honor, seeking praise for ourselves, and/or seeking to be front and center. He is also guiding us to contemplate about: the subtle ways in which we believe that participating in certain activities are beneath us, the slight prejudices that we allow to guide us such that we feel we are better than others, why we don’t associate with certain people because we consider them as other, and/or believing that someone owes us.
From this honest assessment, we can then adjust our perspective and follow the lead of Jesus by seeking out opportunities to give of our time, talent, and treasure, to serve our brothers and sisters. What talents and gifts have been given to us by Jesus and how can we put them into use to help others? Can we treat each person we interact with today with respect, such that, we act in ways that honor the dignity of each person? Can we make an extra effort to be more patient, understanding, and present to others, especially with those who in the past we have kept at arm’s length?
The suggestion of Pope Francis is a good orientation to assume this Lent: “Yet I would also hope that, even in our daily encounters with those who beg for our assistance, we would see such requests as coming from God himself.” In this way, we can live like Jesus who came, “not to be served but to serve” (Mt 20:28).
Photo: My classmate Deacon Henry and me during our ordination. Prostration during the rite symbolizes our unworthiness for the office to be assumed and our dependence upon God and the prayers of the Christian community.