Last Monday the church celebrated the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. The epistle of the Mass was from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians in which St. Paul called the Philippians to have that mind in them which was also in Christ Jesus, Who though He was by nature God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient on to the point of death, even death on the cross.
It is this struggle of self emptying, not putting ourselves above others, not asking ‘what’s in this for me’, that Jesus puts before us to today. In last Sunday’s gospel Jesus accepted Peter’s acknowledgement that He was the Christ. But then He went on to tell Peter the full dimension of what being the Christ entails, “the Christ must undergo great suffering, be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes and eventually be killed. Peter couldn’t get his head around such a possibility and tries to talk Jesus out of it all. Calling Peter ‘Satan’, Jesus tells him, “you are thinking not as God does but as humans do.”
We find this thinking to be true in today’s gospel. Whether they didn’t want to hear it or couldn’t grasp it, the apostles still failed to understand what being the Christ would mean. As they made their way to Capernaum instead of trying to figure out what Jesus was trying to tell them they spent the time arguing about who would be the leader if anything should happen to Jesus. Jesus is telling them about His future death and they’re planning on their future rankings.
The need for power and prestige is part of all of us – we all want to be recognized, appreciated, lead the parade – we want to be number one. Ambition can be a force in our lives. On one occasion Jesus confronted this mentality when He heard the apostles were arguing who was first among them. He had to tell them “the Son of man came to serve, not to be served and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He even had to deal with the mother of James and John who wanted a special place for her sons in his kingdom.
Jesus wanted his apostles to see themselves as leaders who serve instead of seeking to be served, to rid themselves of pride and haughtiness and not to lord their authority over others. In the helpless powerless child the disciples were to find the simplicity that would enable them to see beyond their selfish ambition and understand the manner of life to which Jesus was calling them.
I think at one time or another we’ve all suffered from the abuse of power. Haven’t we been upset when, dealing with a professional person – a doctor, lawyer, a teacher, a priest – we’ve been treated like a moron. Haven’t we been annoyed, even angered when the professional we are seeing thinks himself too busy to take the time to explain our problem. The message is “just take my word for it.”
We’ve seen the abuse of authority in so many areas of life in the recent past; in the church, government, banking and investments, labor and management. In all these areas people have forgotten they are meant to serve, not to be served, not exploit their position.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass we can pray for ourselves and for each other, that if we are in a position of authority, be it as priest, parent, or in our place of work, we try to follow the example of Jesus, Who did not exploit His equality with God but emptied Himself becoming as we all are and gave His life in service to all of us.