Not what I thought you meant.

Have you ever had two people say the exact same thing, but, in fact, they are talking about completely different things? The best example from my life is the word, “soon.” One time in particular we were driving home and one of my children had to go potty. My wife said, “Just hold it if you can because we will be home soon.” I was flabbergasted, we were no less than 15 minutes away from home. Miles away and my wife still used the word “soon” in regards to when we would be home.

So I asked her (I know, a mistake), what she thought was too long for something to be soon. She saw through my gambit and accused me of attacking her use of the word. She wasn’t wrong. For me, soon is like right around the corner or just a couple minutes. The kids agreed and now they ask, “Is it “mom soon” or “dad soon”? When we tell them something is soon. Smart kids. 

Same word, different meanings. You get what I’m saying. 

In the gospel this Sunday we hear of a similar “same words, different meaning” moment. James and John ask if they can be made leaders in Jesus’ kingdom. They want to sit at Jesus’ left and right. They literally want to be Jesus’ right (and left) hand man. Jesus asks in reply, “Are you sure you can do this?” He asks specifically if they think they can drink of the same cup and receive the same baptism as he is about to receive. Of course, they say yes.

What they are saying yes to, in their minds, is the cup of an earthy king – choice wine in abundance. The baptism they anticipate is the like the Roman baths of Herod – luxurious places of comfort. 

What Jesus means by cup is the cup of his Passion. What Jesus means by his baptism is the baptism in his own blood on the cross. While James and John want leadership in an earthly way with comfort and abundance, Jesus means leadership in the heavenly kingdom which will take suffering and total self gift. This is a kingdom they can’t imagine. 

Jesus goes on to talk about servant leadership and what means to lead in the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom of God, leaders lead on behalf of and to benefit the people. More often than not earthly leadership benefits the leaders and not the people. Servant leadership, heavenly leadership takes the total gift of self from the leader on behalf of the people. Leaders in the Kingdom of God serve the people.

When we are at our best we adhere our leadership to this model. Whether it is at work, in our families, or even amongst our friends, when we are servant leaders we glorify God. When the Church is at her best, our bishops and priests act as selfless servant leaders. We all know what happens when they don’t. When we are in positions of leadership, let’s do it as servant leaders.

LIVE IT: Do one of the following two options: 1) Return a misplaced shopping cart either to the store or a cart corral (one that isn’t yours) OR 2) Pick up a piece of trash off a the floor somewhere it isn’t your job to clean. When you do one of these things, say a prayer offering up that act to God and asking to be made a better servant leader. 

Be Careful What You Ask For.

Oct. 21st Sunday Readings.

jim-halpertOne of my favorite episodes of the TV show “The Office” is when Jim, the cool, young, “normal” employee is left in charge of the office in the absence of Michael, the strange, self important, unaware manager. While Michael is gone, Jim tries to simplify the office’s process of celebrating birthdays and the whole thing blows up in his face. Everyone is mad at Jim and in the end his changes are thrown out and everything goes back to the way it was.

In nearly every episode Michael makes a puzzling or downright idiotic management decisions and Jim (and others) quietly thinks they could do better if they were manager. At the end of the episode, Michael sits down next to Jim and they share a moment discussing what it’s like to be in charge. It’s a classic example of, “Be careful what you ask for.”

In the gospel this Sunday, James and John ask Jesus if they can hold positions of power and honor when Jesus is finally in charge. Jesus’ response is probably not what they expect. Instead of yes or no, Jesus responds that they don’t know what they are really requesting. Jesus goes on to explain that if they really want what they are asking for, they will have to suffer and die just as Jesus will. 

Jesus wants James and John (and us) to understand that greatness, in the Kingdom of God, isn’t the same thing as earthly power or prestige. In the Kingdom of God, if one wants to be great, they have to be servants or even, as Jesus says, slave to all. If we ask for greatness, we are actually asking for the grace to serve others well. 

Live It:
Do something small this week that isn’t “your job.” Don’t claim credit or fish for a thank you. Just do it.