“Whoever would be first among you must be your slave…” (Matthew 20:27)
Honesty is one of the features of the Gospels that I appreciate most in this age of spin. In today’s gospel, for example, we are given an embarrassing picture of ambitious apostles (and their cheering mother) looking for honor and looking out for themselves and asking Jesus, “that they may sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (Mt 20:21). When the other apostles find out about this attempt at a backroom deal, “they were indignant at the two brothers” (Mt 21:24). But here Matthew softens the incident and makes only John and James the scapegoats. Mark, the earliest gospel writer is more unvarnished and says that all the apostles were part of this. Jesus had seen that the men were discussing something among themselves as they walked and he asked them about it. They were sheepishly hesitant to answer at first, “for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest” (Mk 9:34). What makes this incident even more remarkable as a spin-free depiction of the apostles is that it comes right after Jesus has been explaining to them that he will be betrayed, condemned and crucified. In other words, they were so preoccupied with jockeying for position that they took on board nothing of what He was saying! I don’t know about you, but I find this honesty not only refreshing but comforting for those of us who spend a lifetime hearing the words of Jesus, reading the scriptures, going to church—and for clergy, celebrating the services, preaching and teaching—and still we don’t get it. If the apostles were a bit thick, then why are we surprised when we and the rest of the church are slow in catching on? We constantly need to be reminded of what it means to be a Christian disciple and leader. And this overturns whatever power models we may have borrowed from other parts of our life.
“But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:25-28).
A Busy Day at the Chancery
Yesterday in St Sergius Chapel we had a peaceful Liturgy for August 1, the Procession of the Cross, served by Fr Basil Summer—he recently celebrated sixty years of serving as a pastor: 20 years as a Lutheran and 40 years as an Orthodox priest. In speaking after the gospel he recalled with emotion the place that the Cross has always had in his life. As a young boy growing up in the Lutheran Church there were no icons of course, but the Cross was everywhere. It was a grace that throughout his life he felt deeply the sacrificial, abundant love that God has poured out for us. And as a priest all these years this is still the same message that he wants to convey to people through his words and his life.
Today is going to be busy. Bishop Michael will be in for his weekly meeting with the officers to help guide administration in this transition period. Fr Myron Manzuk and Peter Ilchuk will be coming to discuss planning for the special All-American Council to elect a new Metropolitan (the Holy Synod will meet August 13th in Detroit to finalize a date and place). Fr Leonid Kishkovsky will be in to report on his trip to Ukraine with Bishop Alexander and Protodeacon Nazari Polataiko for the 20th anniversary of Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev. Metropolitan Vladimir is physically very weak and sits much of the time, but his stature as a spiritual leader is tremendous. He has carefully guarded the independence and particular character of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church while being at the same time a faithful hierarch of the Moscow Patriarchate. Under his leadership since 1992 huge numbers of new churches, monasteries and church-run social service projects and institutions have spread across Ukraine.