A Willing Spirit
As I have done for you
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to [Jesus] and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." He replied, "What do you wish [me] to do for you?" They answered him, "Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left." Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" They said to him, "We can." Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared." When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John. Jesus summoned them and said to them, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mk 10:35–45)
When confronted by James and John with their request to sit in places of glory in the heavenly kingdom, Jesus answered them with two questions: "Can you drink the cup that I drink? Or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" As we know, the brothers said yes, perhaps without really understanding the ramifications behind these poignant questions. Two thousand years later, Jesus asks the same of us. How willing are we to say yes to sharing in the baptism of Christ and drinking from his cup? And what exactly does our assent mean? The baptism that we share with Christ and the cup that we drink call us to serve one another, not be served. Service sits at the heart of what it means to be a Christian.
Throughout the centuries since Jesus's ministry, our understanding of his message of service has become a bit distorted. For example, an act of service today seems to be the "gold star" for going above and beyond what is expected of us as Christians. When a person extends an act of kindness to another, it seems so astonishing that it winds up in the news under the guise of the pop-culture term "paying it forward." Parish organizations and clubs have been created for those parishioners who are "interested in doing service." We confirm our young adults in the Christian faith only after they can show proof of having performed the required hours of service. Where is the lesson of life in all of this? Where are the words of Jesus? Treating service as a free-will facet of our faith seems to miss the mark of what Jesus told his trusted disciples, "Whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve." Service is not a free-will option for a Christian but rather the very fabric of a way of life given to us by Jesus through the waters of baptism.
While we are called to serve one another, we in turn must also be open to letting others serve us. Let me share with you a personal story of transformation. Twenty-three years ago, when my children were babies, I lost both of my parents in the same year. A few months after they died, I stopped by the monument company to see if my parents' headstone was ready. It was an intensely hot summer afternoon. As I left the shop with my two children, I tried to start my car, but with no luck. At that time, there were no cell phones to call for help, so I went back into the shop. The store owner asked me what was wrong, and I told him that my car would not start, and that my children were getting hungry, and that I had no extra bottles with me. He instructed me to wait while he went into the back room. Minutes later he returned with the keys to his car. He told me to take my children home and return his car tomorrow. I will never forget his kindness toward me. That single act of service transformed my life, because now I want to do for others what was done for me. This is what Christian service is all about. Christ gave his life as a ransom for many. How willing are we to do the same? ML
Mary Amore is the executive director of Mayslake Ministries in Lombard, Ill. She holds a doctorate degree in liturgy and a master of arts degree in pastoral studies from Catholic Theological Union. She is the author of Primary Symbols of Worship and the Call to Participation as well as numerous articles.