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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Meditation on This Week's Gospel

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

The readings for Sunday, September 20, 2009:

First Reading: Jeremiah 11:18-20

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Proverbs 31:10-31

First Reading (Alt.): Wisdom 1:16--2:1, 12-22

Psalm: Psalm 54

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 1

Second Reading: James 3:13--4:3, 7-8a

Gospel: Mark 9:30-37

This Gospel seems to drip with extra meaning, in a month where we've seen tennis stars lose their cool, musicians upstage each other at awards shows, and people hollering at a presidential address. Perhaps this is a work week where we wonder what on earth we're doing and how our lives have come to this. Maybe we're feeling frustrated with our families.

Maybe we wonder if we're living up to our full potential.

We're surrounded by self-improvement plans. Maybe we'll go back to school to make ourselves great. Maybe we'll color our hair or buy a new wardrobe. Maybe we'll pay off our debts or buy a car that makes us feel special. Maybe we'll lose weight or bulk up our muscles. The world has no shortage of suggestions for ways that we might make ourselves better.

God has a different suggestion. Jesus says, "If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all" (verse 34).

Humans, most of us, aren't wired that way. Watch what happens at work when one of the higher-ups leaves and there's a vacancy to fill. Watch how many people convince themselves that they're perfect for that job. Watch children, who will always struggle for supremacy. Very few of us come to service naturally.

But those of us who have worked to adopt the servant ethos can tell a different tale. Those people might talk about how good it feels to serve, how their own desires disappear in the face of those that are needier than they are.

But there is a bigger reason why we're called to serve: God hangs out with the lowly. Go back to your Scripture. See how often God shows up with the poor, the outcast, the lowest people in the social structure. We serve, so that we meet God. We serve, so that we serve God.

This verse reminds me of the 25th chapter of Matthew, where humans are separated depending on whether or not they fed Jesus or clothed him or visited him while sick or in prison. And the ones headed to eternal punishment say, "When did we ever see you hungry or naked or sick or in prison?" And we get the classic rejoinder in verse 45: "Truly I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me."

We serve God by serving. Leaf through the Gospels and let yourself be struck by how much of the message of Jesus revolves around this message. We are called to serve. We elevate ourselves not by making ourselves better, but by serving others, by serving those who have the least to offer us.

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