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The 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 23, 2018


    
We are in what feels to me like an endless run-up to the mid-term elections and I’m guessing that most of us have had it with the polls and pundits, the claims and counterclaims, fake facts and fact checks, and all the other things that have come to characterize our political campaigns. In the midst of it all, it’s refreshing to hear the straight talk and unvarnished truth-telling that we get from Jesus in today’s gospel. The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”

     We got a similar message last Sunday when Jesus first began speaking to his disciples about his impending suffering and death.  Peter, you recall, didn’t like what he heard, but Jesus didn’t on that account back down or soften his message. On the contrary, he put Peter and all of his disciples on notice that not only was he going to suffer and die but that they, too, if they wanted to be his followers, would have to take up their own crosses and follow. They would have to lose their lives in order to save them.

     Any way you look at it, Jesus was not running for public office!  Jesus was on a mission – a mission to preach the good news of God’s kingdom. But it was news that didn’t always sound very good.  It included serious challenges that many didn’t want to hear, challenges many rejected out of hand because the idea of a kingdom without power and prestige, grandeur and glory, made absolutely no sense.

     But we get all this. We know that the kingdom Jesus came to preach and bring about was about service, not sovereignty. Even so, we forget. Like the disciples in today’s gospel who fell into petty arguments about who among them was the greatest, or like the community James addressed in his Letter in the second reading, we can find ourselves playing power games – jockeying for position, getting ahead by putting others down, toying with the truth for personal gain. Is it any wonder, then, that this pattern in our personal lives ends up becoming the pattern in the public square, as well?  If we wonder where the deplorable tone and tenor of our electoral politics come from we don’t have to look very far.

     Sadly, the Church is not exempt from any of this even though, I think we can all agree, it’s the last place we should find it. But when people with power and position act more like powerbrokers than pastors; when leaders see themselves as a separate caste quite removed from the people they are called to serve; when they prefer secrecy to transparency, we begin to see just how far we are from Jesus who led by example and who not only talked about being “the last of all and the servant of all” but who actually became the last of all and the servant of all!

     As followers of Jesus, humble service should be in our DNA, but how quickly we can forget our genealogy!  How quickly we can forget that the kingdom of God has a different measure of greatness – a different pecking order entirely - from what our culture tends to embrace.

     In today’s gospel, when Jesus took that little child in his arms he wasn’t playing games or playing the baby-kissing politician on the stump, he was teaching a most profound truth about God and God’s kingdom.  It’s not about power, it’s not about position, and it’s not about lording it over others. If it were, why would Jesus have emptied himself, becoming one of us? Why would he have knelt before his disciples to wash their feet? No, in in the words of today’s gospel, God’s kingdom is about becoming “the last of all and the servant of all!”

     For years I had the privilege of working closely with someone who took this teaching to heart and lived it every day of his life - our former Archbishop, Raymond Hunthausen. He was the kind of teacher who taught more by who he was than by what he said; who led by walking alongside and never lording it over; who modeled the meaning of servant leadership by his humble, assuming ways; and through it all, he inspired people to be their best selves and never to take shortcuts around the gospel.

     My friends, I’m convinced that it’s only when Church leaders – and I include myself - find a way to lead like Jesus – and Archbishop Hunthausen, for that matter - becoming “the last of all and the servant of all,” only then will the Church begin to recover from the dark moment in which we find ourselves and walk confidently toward the light.

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

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