29th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
During the American Revolution, a group of soldiers were busy pulling out a horse carriage stuck in the deep mud while their commanding officer was standing off to the side shouting instructions to them and making no attempt to help.
Meanwhile, a man in civilian clothes rode past the group. The stranger witnessed the scene and asked the officer why he wasn't helping. With great dignity, the officer replied, "Sir, I am a Corporal!"
The stranger got off his horse and began to help the tired soldiers himself.
When the job was completed, he turned to the corporal and said, "Mr. Corporal, next time you have a job like this, and don’t have enough men to do it, inform your commander-in-chief, and I will come and help you again."
The Corporal then immediately recognized the commander in Chief: General George Washington.
Washington understood that those who aspire to greatness or rank first among others must serve the needs of all. Where did Washington learn such leadership skills?
I have no doubt he learned them here, in these words of Jesus: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”
The disciples James and John boldly asked Jesus to promote them to first place in his kingdom without having do to do any of the work or make any sacrifice.
The desire for greatness seems to be inbred in all of us. Who wants to be last or least? Jesus did the unthinkable - he reversed the order.
If we want to be first and great, he says, then we must place ourselves at the disposal of others by putting their interests first and by taking on their cares and concerns as if they were our own.
He is also pretty clear that this kind of service requires sacrifice. His disciples must drink his cup if they expect to reign with him in his kingdom.
What kind of cup does the Lord have in mind for each one of us? For some disciples such a cup involves physical suffering and the shedding of one's blood for the sake of Christ's name.
But for many of us, it entails the long routine of the Christian life, with all its daily sacrifices, disappointments, set-backs, struggles, and temptations.
It begins right at home work or at school. We get chances to serve others every day. Nurses serve their patients, teachers serve their students, parents serve the needs of their children, and spouses serve each another. And we do it with joy!
What makes such sacrifice a joy rather than a burden is love - the kind of love which has power to transform and change our lives and the lives of those around us.
St. Paul the Apostle in his letter to the Romans tells us that this "love" is a pure gift "which God has poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us."
If we allow God's love to transform our lives, then no sacrifice will be too great or hard to make.
An early church father summed up Jesus' teaching with the expression: "to serve is to reign with Christ."
Let us pray that the Eucharist that we will soon share will set us free from fear and pride that we may be servants of love and compassion for others. May the fire of Christ’s love inflame our hearts that we may give generously and serve joyfully.