Mark tells us Jesus was leading his discipline to Jerusalem and some them were afraid because Jesus had just told them of what his future would be: the son of man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes and they will condemn him to death and they will hand him over to the gentiles and they will mock him and spit on him and flog him and kill him and after three day he will rise again.
This is the third time Jesus tried to tell the disciples what lay ahead for him and every time they avoided the issue. Peter wouldn’t hear of such a thing: &lddquo;God forbid; this must never happen to you.” ‘Let’s change the subject.’ James and John get into the act. They ask for a favor, a special favor for a special place in the coming kingdom. As always their idea of ‘the kingdom’ was totally different than that of Jesus. The other ten heard this and they were angry with James and John and the issue of the coming sufferings of Jesus is avoided for the time being.
Jesus uses this effort to avoid the issue of his future suffering to teach them something of what authority would be like in his kingdom. The lesson dealt not only with the way the Gentiles abused their authority but also with the way the priests of the temple and the scribes and Pharisees would abuse their authority and bring about his unjust trial and execution.
The only authority they knew was an authority of power and domination, a lording over people. The day would come when these twelve would be in positions of leadership but they were to exercise their leadership, their authority as servants, as enablers of others not as lords and masters.
This gospel always reminds me of something that happened in the parish during the world youth day. The parish hosted young people from French speaking countries. They would gather here about 10 in the morning and a French speaking bishop would speak to them about different aspects of the faith. After a lunch they would head for Donlands for a general meeting.
One day the gospel was the one we used today. The bishop for that day was the bishop of Timmins. He read the gospel and then he put an apron on over his vestments and then preached on service to others. He talked about the church being a servant church. When he finished preaching he took off the apron and hung it from the cross at the altar that symbol of the great act of service Jesus offered to all of us. I found that action very powerful. Scripture tells us, “For the son of man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Leadership in the church is meant to be a ministry of service. One of the titles of the Pope is ‘servant of the servants of God.’ Looking at the cardinals and bishops gathered in Rome for the meeting of bishops you won’t see any aprons, more like pomp and circumstance. What the apron signifies is basic to the office of pope, bishop or parish priest – service. Again, the son of man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.
To bring us back to God Jesus emptied himself of his divinity and took the form of a slave. As St. Paul writes, he did not consider being equal to God as something to be clung to and so he emptied himself of his divinity and became totally one with us in our humanity, a person able to sympathize with our weaknesses, tested as we all are though he always remained faithful to God. On the cross Jesus emptied himself of his humanity as he died a humiliating, degrading death. His whole life was a life of service, a life of giving, and a life of loving. The son of man, the son of God came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.
When we were baptized we wore or we received a white garment, an outward sign of our Christian dignity. As we live out our Christian lives we should all be wearing aprons, a strong symbol of the service we are to offer one another. We serve one another here at Mass as we support one another by our presence and our prayers. The cantors, the choirs, the organists, the lectors, the ministers of the Eucharist, the altar servers, the ushers – they serve our parish family. In the living of our daily lives Jesus calls us to be present, to be aware of and to serve those we find to be in need. I was hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick, lonely, and you were there for me – you served me by your presence and by your care – you were wearing your apron.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass may we always remember this awesome truth – the Son of Man, the Son of God came to us not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for all of us. As he served us so we must serve others.