The speaker in the Book of Wisdom today singles out “the just one” and says, “Let us try his patience.” In the Gospel, Jesus describes “the greatest” or the just one, as the one who serves. What does a servant look like in your own experience, this just one who serves, patiently or not? Jesus singles out a child and seems to say that those who serve a child’s needs are among the greatest. Children can do little for themselves; they are needy. But, let’s face it, children, as any parent will testify, can try your patience! It may defy belief, but I certainly tried my parents’ patience! Are parents servants of their children?
In the gospel of Mark today Jesus is telling his apostles for the second time that he must die to fulfill his mission. We heard this last week. We considered the passage in Philippians: He “emptied himself” of his divinity, became a slave and suffered and died.
In this passage, Jesus shifts his focus from himself to them. He tells them they must empty themselves of themselves if they are to be his disciples. Greatness is constituted by dying to self and serving others –- even if our patience is tried! Again, don’t parents do this? Right now, the apostles don’t get it; they are clearly full of themselves – if they are arguing about whom among them is the greatest. How like our times! Our culture is a getting-ahead culture with a focus on self. A spiritual writer says: “[S]elf-involvement defeats the bond of community.” In other words: serving others makes community grow. The family unit is a model of community. Next week Pope Francis will speak at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia; this week in his Wednesday general audience he said: “The family… saves us from so many, so many attachments, so many destructions … such as that of money or those ideological ones that threaten the world so much.” So the discipline of family life saves us from being full of ourselves!
Many of you are servants as parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles. Jesus says this is the way to greatness. We do not live for ourselves alone. Remember: “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains but a grain of wheat.” In the falling and the dying, the grain grows to be much, much more, nourishing many, building community. We do this most efficaciously for others and for ourselves when we serve those who cannot do for themselves: the poor, the lonely, anyone on the margins of society.
Let’s ponder: Who are the persons who have been a servant to us? How have they led us to serve others? Yes, even if they try our patience! Thank God for them!