Father Thomas's Homilies
17 October, Trinity 20
“It shall not be so among you.”
As with so many of his teachings, today we hear Christ speaking in a truly revolutionary way. This wasn’t just a small misunderstanding with a couple of the disciples, this is about the whole vision of the world and how we are to behave in it. James and John certainly were seeing things in the wrong way, but that’s because the whole world had been seeing things in that wrong way ever since Adam and Eve.
What Christ does is to point to himself as the true example of what a leader is. He doesn’t give them a long lecture, rather he shows them. A leader can give orders, and Christ often does gives orders, but a good leader always leads by his own example. So when Christ proposes this dramatically different vision of what a leader is, of what a Master is, of what a ruler is, before he has even spoken about it he is showing it in his own life.
The leaders of the Church, those who would follow Christ, are supposed to have him as their pattern – as our pattern. He is, after all, perfect. We are all called Christians because we seek to become like him. To match, as far as we can, that perfection which he showed to us all.
Leaders, in this revolutionary vision, do not lead for themselves; they do not rule for their own benefit. They lead so that those whom they lead are benefitted; they rule so that those they rule over are helped by that rule. This sort of rule and leadership will always come with a cost for the leader.
If you asked one of those disciples who first heard this message for their thoughts on rulers, they would have had in their minds people who took the opportunities that rule gave them to improve their own lives. Whether they were thinking of the Temple Priests or of Roman occupiers, both of these saw rule as the chance to live an easy life; to gain for themselves from the work of those they ruled over. The contrast with Christ – both his words and his actions – could not be clearer.
Did Christ finish his time on earth financially enriched by his ministry? Did he use the lordship which he had to make his time easier? Clearly not. He had the fullest possible lordship, he is the ruler above all others, and yet he was willing to suffer so greatly for us – for those he is Lord over.
The same is true, or rather the same should be true, of everybody who follows him as a leader in the Church. James and John learnt this lesson, James followed his master and like him was willing to die for the Faith and for the flock he cared for. He became Bishop of Jerusalem, and even when his life was clearly in danger because of the rising anti-Christian persecution, he stayed to care for his congregation, to protect and teach them as best he could. Christ had asked him whether he is able to drink the same chalice as he was, and he proved that, yes, he was able to. He was no longer bothered about receiving earthly glory, because he had learned from Christ – both Christ’s teachings and his example – that earthly glory is nothing compared to the heavenly which we can receive.
This is a stark message for everybody who wishes to lead in the Church. Leadership here is not the way to an easy life; leadership here means leading in the way that Christ led. It means looking at all of those we are supposed to lead and thinking that they are the important ones rather than ourselves. It means being like the Christ who was willing to give up everything so that people could be drawn closer to him. It means being the servant of everybody entrusted to our care.
Indeed, it is a message for all Christians. We carry that name because we follow Christ, when we became Christians at our Baptisms we died to the world so that we could live with Christ. If we are to bear the name ‘Christian’ well, it has to be because we follow him, because we have him as our example.
When we look at those around us, we have to try ever more and more to do so in the same way that Christ did. To look at them with those eyes which were always seeing how to serve them. To see what people needed – whether it was healing from sickness, or encouragement in a moment of doubt, or reassurance of God’s love, or from time-to-time a firm but loving reminder of what the truth is. That’s how Christ spent his time on earth, and so it is how we should spend our time on earth too – if we wish to be like Christ.
To see everybody we meet as a person we can serve. A person we can reach out to with that self-giving love which was the mark of everything that Christ did.
This truly is a revolutionary view of the world. This isn’t a neat and tidy Christianity, it’s often a disturbing Christianity, because it makes us realise how far from perfect we are. But it’s also a reassuring Christianity, because wherever we are on that journey, we can know that we’re journeying with Christ; that as long as we stick close to him he will show us the way to go…that he will be there being our servant as we try to be the servant of all those around us. If we journey with Christ, then we know that we’re not going to go too far wrong – may we always listen for his voice so that we know where he is guiding us, where he is giving us the chance to serve others just as he did.