A Servant of Others as Well
MK 9:30-37
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 20, 2015

In last week’s Gospel, Jesus asked His disciples: “Who do people say I am?” This week’s Gospel is woven around another question directed by the Lord to His closest followers: “What were you arguing about?” Apparently, His question shut down further discussion because they “remained silent,” too embarrassed to admit that they were debating which one of them was the most important. Jesus, through gesture more than words, had a follow-up question for His red-faced friends: “Who do you think you are?” (You can imagine His tone.)

The second week in July 2015, America: The National Catholic Review (basically the Church’s version of Newsweek Magazine) published a cover photo showing a group of men who were not “red faced” but vested in a brilliant shade of red. The picture was of a procession of bishops at the beatification Mass of Archbishop Oscar Romero celebrated in San Salvador on May 23. The cover story illustrated by the photograph was: “Pastors, not Princes: The Role of the bishop under Pope Francis.” The author of the article, Diego Fares, reported on The Holy Father’s recent address to the General Assembly of Italian Bishops.

While the secular press lifted “sound bites” from Francis’s address and described the new direction in which the Pope is trying to steer our Church, the fact of the matter is, for Christians, there is absolutely nothing innovative about the remarks. The Holy Father was simply restating what Jesus taught “the Twelve” when He closed the front door to Peter’s house in Capernaum, and said: Listen up! This is how it is…“If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all, and the servant of all,” a lesson which, by the way, Jesus repeated at His Last Supper through the washing of the feet.

When the Italian Bishops heard Pope Francis echo the Lord’s call for humility and service, there were probably some faces that turned the same shade as the vestments on the cover of America magazine. Some, like the disciples Jesus confronted, were embarrassed…shamed by the realization that, on occasion, their service took a back seat to their pride and ambition. Others might have become hot under the Roman collar, so to speak…angered at the suggestion that they “have it wrong.” It’s hard to accept criticism, no matter who is criticizing or how it is directed at us. But, hopefully, the vast majority of the Italian bishops sat listening as attentively as the 12 behind the closed doors of Peter’s home.

And, hopefully, the Roman Catholic faithful around the world will hear this Sunday’s Gospel and realize that the teaching and admonition is not just for bishops and other Church leaders. All who are baptized in Christ are called to walk humbly before God. So then, on that day when a true Christian stands before The Just Judge and is asked (in a loving tone) “Who do you think you are?” …the answer is entirely predictable: I am Your humble servant, Lord…and the humble servant of others as well!