“…whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” Mark 10: 43 & 44
Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem with His disciples. James and John, two of His closest disciples, come up to Him with a request and Jesus says to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” They responded by asking Jesus if they could sit at His side when He becomes king, one at His right and one at His left. They wanted to be His chief of staff in His new presidency. A position of great honor and power and prestige. But Jesus wasn’t going to
Jerusalem to establish an earthly kingdom. He was going there to die.
They continue to travel toward Jerusalem and come to the city of Jericho. There a blind beggar starts shouting for Jesus to help him. He shouts,
“Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” Over and over he shouts this prayer (not a bad prayer by the way). And the crowd starts to yell at this beggar to be quiet, but he shouts all the more. Jesus stops and asks the beggar the same question He had just asked James and John. “What do you want me to do for you?”
I think this is a question Jesus asks each of us. How would you answer? Would you say: “Jesus, I would like a little more success at work. Could you
give me a job promotion, a better office, a raise, or maybe just a little more affirmation?”
Or maybe you would ask for just a little more money. If I only had a little bit more I could get out of debt, or do a little traveling, or maybe even afford to get a summer home.
Some of us just want to be free from pain or sickness. We struggle with chronic pain or a physical condition that makes it so hard to live a normal life. We just want to feel like we did, ten or twenty years ago. Is that too much to ask Jesus?
The trouble with all of this is that Jesus is not a genie granting three wishes. He is a savior who dies to give us new life. In order to receive that new life
we can’t be distracted by our own desires and visions of glory.
Our own ideas of success are determined by this world in which we live. We are literally bombarded with millions of messages and images a year that
define success for us. Physical beauty, all kinds of pleasure, travel and adventure, power, wealth, fame, friendship, and the list goes on and on and on.
Jesus’ idea of success was radically different. He says if you want to be truly successful, you will learn to serve. If you want a position of importance,
you will become a slave to the needs of others. Those statements turn the world’s values upside down! They go against our basic instincts and most of our learning. How different this is from the American dream! It has nothing to do with career success, or money, or the pursuit of what we call
“the good life.”
I think Jesus would have us respond to that question with the simple request, “Lord, make me a servant.” Our call, as Jesus’ disciples, is to love God with all that is within us and to love others as we love ourselves. We do that by serving. That is the mark of a successful life in the eyes of our creator.
Henri Nouwen was a very successful writer and speaker and professor. He was a professor at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard. He wrote many highly regarded books and probably spoke at hundreds of conferences. I heard him several times at our Midwinter Conferences and was always blessed by the clarity of his thinking and the depth of his spirituality. But for the last ten years of his life, he left most of that success behind. He became the pastor of a center for the disabled called L’Arche Community of Daybreak, near Toronto, Canada. There, for a part of every day, he took care of a severely-disabled man named, Adam Arnett. Henri spent much of his time feeding and clothing and caring for the basic needs of this man. In the process, he felt more blessed and experienced more spiritual growth than
at any other time of his life. This was an experience that transformed him in many ways. Adam, who couldn’t speak or walk or feed himself, became his friend, his teacher and his guide.
I’m not saying we should leave everything and go serve the neediest among us. But Henri Nouwen is a wonderful example of the truth of Jesus’ words. Success is found in serving. This Lenten season may we all find new ways of serving our Lord and the people He places in our life. It’s what life is all about.
Grace and Peace,