The first line of Mark’s gospel for this weekend is a bit shocking. (MK 18:35) Although the disciples occasionally seem somewhat unaware of the mission they are sharing with Jesus, we don’t often see competition among them or total misunderstanding of their position vis-a-vis Jesus. When James and John, the sons of Zebedee come to Jesus and say, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you,” we might imagine a response (if we didn’t already know the whole story) of stunned silence or a harsh reprimand, with Jesus reminding them of their mission. On the contrary, Jesus asks them what they want him to do for them. Thinking that he is going to comply with their wish, they tell him that when he has achieved glory (obviously not in the way they have in mind) they should sit on his right and his left, that is, be his most powerful associates. Introducing his response to their hubris with the statement, “You do not know what you are asking,” Jesus then gives them a glimpse of what is coming, drawing the other ten (indignant) apostles into the conversation about the nature of servant ministry – his purpose and vision for himself and us.
How different our world would be if we lived by the words of Jesus in this text! Consider the result if leaders in government, church and corporate America took to heart these words: “…whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant…” We have a great example in Pope Francis, who lives the humility of Jesus so well. His words ring true because of the way he lives his life and the manner of Jesus is reflected in his actions, specifically perhaps in his interaction with reporters and others in interviews. Like Jesus in this gospel, he does not often answer questions that speak to difficult scenarios but rather poses alternative questions like: “Who am I to judge?” Then he speaks of his vision for the Church which is grounded in love and mercy, a theme that resounds in this week’s psalm refrain. (PS 33:22) In his homily of April 7, 2013 during his initial Mass as the Bishop of Rome, his first words proclaimed this vision clearly.
What a beautiful truth of faith this is for our lives: the mercy of God! God’s love for us is so great, so deep; it is an unfailing love, one that always takes us by the hand and supports us, lifts us up, leads us on.
May we learn the lessons of humility and mercy, not judging others for their missteps but treating them as Christ and Pope Francis would. In this way, we will become faithful servants to God and to all of our brothers and sisters in Christ.