Service and Sacrifice
A story is told about a man who was shown by an angel the difference between heaven and hell. The angel invited him “come, I will show you hell.” They entered a room where a group of hungry people sat around a long, big table filled with sumptuous food. But everyone in the room was starving. Each person held a spoon that reached the table but each spoon had a handle so much longer than their own arms that it could not be used to get the food into their own mouths. So they ended up pale and emaciated despite so much food. Their suffering was terrible.
“Come now, I will show you heaven” the angel said. They entered a room identical to the first, the long and big table filled with sumptuous food, the group of people and the same long-handled spoons. But here everyone was happy and well nourished. “I don’t understand” said the man. “Why is everyone happy here and miserable in the other room? Everything is the same.” “Here, said the angel, they have learned to serve each other.”
Heaven is a place where people are happy because they love and care for each other. They show their love by serving each other. Instead hell is a sad place because each just thinks of himself.
In today’s Gospel (Mk 9:30-37), Jesus reveals to us the way to heaven and the secret of happiness. Our reading is situated on the road to Capernaum where Jesus makes a second prediction of his passion, death and resurrection. He was teaching them again that he was a “suffering messiah.” They just left Mt. Tabor where Jesus was transfigured. He showed them his glory to strengthen their faith when the dark hours would arrive. Still, after all these instructions on selflessness, the disciples did not understand what the following of Jesus would entail. Along the way they were arguing who was the most important among them. They could not resist the lure of power and prestige. They were still ambitious men seeking glory and importance.
Jesus uses this occasion to teach them (and all of us) three things:
Jesus insists that his followers serve. He came to serve and not to be served. This is the measure of greatness in God’s kingdom. When I entered the seminary, one of the first things that “shocked” me was manual work. Everybody was given a chore to do – washing dishes, sweeping long corridors, mopping the dormitory or scrubbing toilets. It was something done daily, 7 times a week. At first I had a feeling of disgust. At home, I acted like a boss. Somebody else would clean up my mess. But in the seminary, there were no janitors. So everyone has a share in the cleaning. We were trained to serve one another. Now as a priest, I realize that training formed my character. Service has become a 2ndnature to me – a habit I have acquired. My former companions in the seminary, who now have families of their own, are also grateful for the training. It made them responsible and service-oriented persons who work not just for the pay-check. Jesus wants us to learn the joy of serving each other.
To be disciples of Jesus, one has to follow the Master. Jesus openly shared his impending sufferings. It is necessary to carry the cross. One video I saw in Youtube on “Discipleship” depicts people carrying their own crosses. They were travelling in one direction and each one really felt the pain of their individual burden. Then one among them stopped. Put down his heavy cross and complained to God. “Lord, my cross is so heavy, can I shorten it a bit?” Without waiting for the Lord’s reply, he took a saw and cut a little piece of his cross. Then he continued to move on. Further on, he stopped again and complained. He again took a saw and shortened his cross that it became much lighter. It became so light that he did not feel anymore pain. He carried his cross whistling along the way. However, they came to a cliff. The only way to crossover was the use of their individual crosses as bridge. Everyone was able to cross except this complaining guy. He was stranded because his cross was not long enough. Lesson: our cross is the bridge to reach God’s kingdom. It is a necessary sacrifice.
Jesus uses a child as an icon of simplicity. Children are not pretentious nor are they prone to be ambitious. Once I was talking with a mother, she told me that her son at first wanted to be a doctor because he wanted to help his many sick neighbors. Later, he changed his mind. He was inspired to be a security guard so that he could help children cross the streets. Such is the ambition of a little child. Instead, adults often times, have much sophisticated ambitions not really to help others but to help themselves.
Let us ask for the grace of service, sacrifice and simplicity from Jesus.