Oct. 18, 2015: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
On one occasion during the American Revolutionary War, preparations were being made for an up-coming battle. A man dressed in civilian clothes passed a corporal who was screaming orders at his men. Seeing that they were obviously exhausted from their labor, the man asked the corporal, “Why don’t you help them?” “Sir,” the corporal bristled as his anger rose, “I am a corporal!”
With a quick apology, the stranger took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves and set to work with the soldiers. “Mr. Corporal, Sir,” he said when the task was completed, “whenever you need someone to help with a job, feel free to call on your commander-in-chief. I will be happy to be of service.” With that, George Washington put on his coat and left. Whether his motivation was gospel-driven or not, Washington understood that those who aspire to greatness or rank first among others must serve the needs of all.
Incidents like this one continue to surprise because the message of today’s gospel has yet to find a realistic foothold in our society. Who among us looks for greatness in small places or within menial ministries? There is a timeless quality in Jesus’ lesson on ambition, authority and service; perhaps this is so because the problem is ever with us.
Jesus turns human expectations about rank and privilege upside down.
The basic trouble is that it is human nature to want to do as little as possible and to get as much as possible. It is only when we are filled with the desire to put into life more than we take out that life for ourselves and for others will be happy and prosperous. Rudyard Kipling has a poem called ‘Mary’s Son’ which is advice on the spirit in which work must be done:
If you stop to find out what your wages will be
And how they will clothe and feed you,
Willie, my son, don’t you go to the Sea,
For the Sea will never need you.
If you ask for the reason of every command,
And argue with people about you,
Willie, my son, don’t you go on the Land,
For the Land will do better without you.
If you stop to consider the work that you’ve done
And to boast what your labour is worth, dear,
Angels may come for you, Willie, my son.
But you’ll never be wanted on earth dear!
The world needs people whose ideal is service –that is to say it needs people who have realized what sound sense Jesus spoke. To clinch his words Jesus pointed to his own example. With such powers as he had, he could have arranged life entirely to suit himself, but he had spent himself and all his powers in the service of others. He had come, he said, to give his life a ransom for many.
Occasions for serving others are part of each believer’s daily experience. Parents, teachers, civil servants, managers of every kind, pastoral leaders, must all be servants, as Jesus was a servant. The closer we are to Jesus, the more we are expected to mirror him.
One woman’s insight into the possibilities for service is embroidered on a little plaque that hangs above her kitchen sink: “Apostolic service is rendered here, three times a day!”
William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible