October 21, 2018
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
IS 53:10-11 PS 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22 HEB 4:14-16 MK 10:35-45
There’s a saying in the business world – which applies in other areas of society as well – “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Unfortunately, it seems to be at work in the Church, too. We’ve all seen it: people reach a level within an organization not so much because of their skill set, or abilities, or knowledge, but because they knew the right person, or had grabbed hold of the right set of coattails. Knowing the right person becomes a short cut, if you will, to reaching success. A way around the tedium of hard work and struggle of personal development.
In today’s Gospel, James and John displayed a bit of that philosophy. Perhaps they were thinking, once Jesus comes into his power, let’s leverage our close relationship with him, and claim the two most powerful positions beneath His. Let’s stake our claim now – beat the others to the punch.
Of course, Jesus knew what they were thinking. So He posits a question: Are you willing to go through what I must go through to deserve those places of prominence? Gulp. James and John had passed the point of no return, so to save face, they had to answer “Yes”, and I bet they had no clue what He meant. Then Jesus tells them, know what? You’re right. But that’s no guarantee you’ll be on my right and my left because those seats are already prepared. And just like that, the short cut was closed off.
And then, to stifle the welling jealousy of the other disciples, Jesus says: Listen guys – my Kingdom is not about lording power, but about serving those in your charge. The authority granted to you by me and the Father – which isn’t authority earned by birthright, through conquest, through graft, not even because of ‘what you know’, but authority granted by God, thus wholly undeserved – is to be exercised with service, charity, and humility. By sacrificing oneself for those under your authority. By helping those who especially lack the means to repay, who cannot return the favor. It’s one of many paradoxes that comprise being a disciple of Jesus: we lead through service, and we exercise authority through sacrifice. Our gifts are not for us, but for others. Jesus eventually showed them the true meaning of leadership, by dying on the cross, by offering up His life for the sins of the world. That was certainly no shortcut.
In a way, “It’s not what you know, but who you know” isn’t far from the mark. Not as a shortcut to success, but as the first step to eternal life. If we claim to know Jesus Christ, then those around us will believe it by our faithfulness and joy in following Him, by obeying Him. Our life of service, our sacrifices, and our willingness to be hung upon the cross will give authentic witness to our faith. Being faithful in these things will strengthen and prepare us to drink from His cup, and to endure His baptism, allowing us to one day take our place that has been prepared for us in His Kingdom.