Not to be ministered unto, but to minister

Thursday of the Ninth Week of St. Matthew

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In today’s Gospel, the mother of James and John demonstrates her radically mistaken idea of what the Messianic kingdom is actually going to look like. 

At that time,  Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again. Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him. And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom. But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able. And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father. And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren. But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. – Matthew 20: 17-28

We may smile indulgently at the wife of Zebedee’s crude notion that the Christ would be a worldly king whom old ladies could cozen into making courtiers out of men with the right connections, but is it not possible that we, perhaps, grasp the true nature of the Kingdom of God not better than she? On earth we live in the Kingdom of God by living in the Church, but, imitating the mother of the Sons of Thunder, we also may tend to act as though we are here to use the Church and not to serve Her. 

Let us ask ourselves a few questions: 

Is the Church my dear Mother, whom I must reverence and obey, or is She (or it, rather) an impersonal thing, a necessary evil essentially unloved, a rusty old contraption for dispensing salvation, to be kicked, tricked, and otherwise abused into compliance with my wishes for pie in the sky at discount prices? 

Is the Church the precious Body of Christ, to be cared for and ministered to by me, as the Holy Myrrhbearers ministered to the Body of the Crucified Lord, or is She simply an organized religion business, a vendor to dispense benefits as I decide I want them when I want them, with as little fuss as possible? 

Is the Church “we” – my primary place, my primary people, of belonging, identity, loyalty, and love? Or is the Church “they” (bishop, priest, parish council, catechist, coffee hour ladies [fill in the blank]) providing “goods and services” for “customers”… like me.    

When things go wrong in the Church, is it always “they” who are responsible, or do I not have a share in the blame, by my lack of faith, prayer, repentance, dedication, sacrifice, and active doing good to my brothers? 

One of my favorite Southern authors, William Alexander Percy, says that the human race is divided into “lean-ers and lean-ees,” those who lean on others and those who get leaned on. Of course, we all need to lean on someone sometimes, but those who get into the Kingdom we are discussing here have the primary orientation of being lean-ees. At least they want to be leaned on, though human weakness will prevent it sometimes. Such people have always been the minority, of course, and that makes perfect sense, since the Lord did say that only the few even get into His Kingdom, much less sit next to Him. 

Decide today! Lean-er or lean-ee? Make your choice. 

Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. Amen. 

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