Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time 'B'

Saturday October 17, 2009

Partners with God in Christ

Several years ago, there was a film entitled, The Man Who Played God. The main character was a wealthy and famous musician. At the height of his career, he began to lose his hearing. Embittered and angered at his plight, he withdrew from society, turned away from God and became a virtual recluse in his penthouse apartment. From his window overlooking a nearby park and with the help of a set of high-powered binoculars, he began to amuse himself by reading people’s lips.

One afternoon, he focused on a young man whose lips were moving in prayer. Once he had determined what the young man was praying for, he sent one of his servants to fulfill his request. On another occasion, he read the lips of a woman who was telling another of a desperate need. This need also was met through his intervention. Gradually the wealthy musician became quite adept at his newfound hobby and each time he performed one of these services, he looked heavenward and laughed scornfully. He was playing God!

Gradually, however, something mysterious began to happen. The man who delighted in playing God began to discover God, converted as it were by the kindnesses he had been moved to perform. In the act of serving the needs of others, he began to know God because God is a God of service but he didn’t recognize the grace of God working within him.

It is true we cannot always be in control of my own lives or the lives of other people. Some of the greatest things can happen when we “let go and let God”; when we step back and allow others to exercise their talents. But the best things happen when we do things together, deferentially.

Jesus was pretty clear about his expectations for his disciples. (Disciple means learner.) He expected them to be servants. Actually, the biblical word used is “slave”. To give up control which is even more than giving up money or personal possessions. It is giving up our will to God, subjecting ourselves to God’s rhythm. Quite frankly, this is a pretty scary thought isn’t it? People recovering from addictive illnesses know exactly what it means to acknowledge and defer to a higher power.

The sacrificial nature of the call to serve is referred to in Jesus’ reference to the cup he would drink and the bath of pain in which he would be immersed. This is the quality of service expected of his disciples. In the world of commerce and politics and even in church life, those who seem to exercise authority lord it over others. Jesus said, “It can not be that way with you.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his one of his reflections on mutual service suggested that every Christian community must confront the ambitious wrangling that set James and John at odds with the other disciples. Over and above the usual applications of servanthood he offered a few contemporary ideas such as the unique service of holding one’s tongue so as to prevent undue criticism and domination while allowing the other to grow freely in God’s image rather than in one’s own; the service of humility that places the honor, opinion and well-being of another before my own; the service of listening that does not listen with only half an ear or on the presumption of knowing what the other has to say but listens with the ears of God; the service of bearing one another’s burdens in a way that does not make the other feel like a burden; the service of communicating without dominating always in the consciousness that everything is gift.

James and John requested of Jesus the gift of honor and status. Jesus asked of them and now of us that we accept the gift of true servanthood that equips us with all we need to be successful.

We are called to be partners with Christ in service to humanity.

Lord make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon,
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light,
And where there is sadness, joy.
Grant, O Lord, that I may not so much seek to be consoled
as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love,
For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning
that we are pardoned
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.


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