Gospel commentary: Lead by Jesus’ example

Gospel Commentary MK 10:35-45

Jesus was the consummate teacher. He came to reveal to the world the most important truths about God, his kingdom and the path to human flourishing. His teaching method is a work of art to be studied. At times, Jesus simply holds the crowds spellbound by his wisdom and authority. On occasion, he chastises individuals for their pride, hypocrisy and bad example. Sometimes, Jesus lets his disciples learn by hands-on experience as when he sends them ahead of him on a preaching mission. At other times he redirects their follies and re-channels their energies in new directions.

The event in today’s Gospel is an example of the latter technique. James and John come to Jesus with a rather prideful and presumptuous request. “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” On the surface, this bold request seems worthy of an extra harsh chastisement. It certainly got the other apostles angry. Jesus, however, responds by using this as a powerful teaching moment.

“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.”

Notice that Jesus is completely in control of his emotions. He never lets the circumstances control him or determine how he is going to act. He never allows the actions and attitudes of others make him act in a sinful or inappropriate way. In this instance, Jesus chooses to redirect their desire for greatness by purifying that desire and baptizing it.

Greatness and authority in God’s kingdom are exercised through humility and service. Every kind of leadership exercised by a Christian should be marked by this attitude: a priest, a manager at work, a parent, a coach, an older sibling or a student leader on campus. To be a leader, to exercise power in God’s kingdom, we must have the heart of a servant.

Of course, being the consummate teacher, Jesus modeled this way of life with his own actions. He chose to serve in a wide variety of ways during his years of public service. He fed hungry crowds; he taught the stubborn disciples with patience, skill and clarity; he took the blind by the hand and led them on a walk outside the city; he got on his knees and washed the feet of the Twelve.

In the end, the greatest form of service that Jesus renders to us is the journey to the cross. There, the eternal son of the living God, the all-powerful and the totally innocent One gathers the sins of every human being ever conceived on this earth and carries them to the cross. The prophet Isaiah speaks so eerily and prophetically about Our Lord approximately 800 years before the coming of Christ: “Because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days; through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.”

I am reminded of a dear friend who volunteered countless hours to assist me with a campus ministry program some years ago. He served on a building committee, helped raise funds for a new center, invited our student leadership team to his house for weekend retreats, and served in countless other ways over the years. However, the element of his life that inspired me the most was how he took care of his wife as her health slowly deteriorated through a battle with Multiple Sclerosis. His unending love, patience, gentleness and willingness to carry out the most humble acts of service for his wife of many years was a most powerful example to me and to the college students. He had a very successful career in Washington, and later was an executive at a bank; yet, he stood by her side, lovingly cared for her and humbly served her to the very end.

In reality, most of us are in positions of power in some way or another: at work, among friends, with our siblings, while driving, and so on. I think the most important place we exercise power is in the home. Do I lord it over those around me, especially when they are vulnerable? Do I strive to let Jesus be my model and teacher? Do I see my leadership as a call to humbly and lovingly serve the needs of those God places in my life?

Fr. Peterson is director of mission and development for the Youth Apostles.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018