We may not see eye to eye but can walk hand in hand – Monday, 26th Week in ordinary time – Luke 9:46 -50

There must have been a sense of frustration that Jesus experienced. I can almost see myself wanting to give a smack right across the head of some of those apostles. Close on the heels of Jesus’ second passion prediction of his powerlessness before human beings (9:44) and Jesus’ instructions about taking up ones cross and following him (9:23-27) comes this narrative about the disciple’s quest for power. They want to know who will be the greatest amongst them; they jockey for key positions!

How can one be so preoccupied with selfishness in one’s lust for power? It’s like a life that’s slipping out of a human body, the body is still warm as life ebbs away and the relatives are hunting for the will. No wonder they say, where there is a will there are relatives! The irony is that these are the ‘relatives of Jesus’, these were his brothers. He has twice told them that he will be handed over to be killed and all they do is argue and jostle for posts and positions.

We may judge the twelve as much as we want but the truth is that we are but a shadow that pops out of the apostles; for their ambitions are ours.  Over and over again Jesus tries to get his disciples to see that they are called to serve, not to dominate. In the kingdom of God everyone is equal: there are no positions of power, no hierarchy.

Ironically, the titles that define our roles of service have now become titles of honour and power. The Pope is the servant of the servants of the people of God. The word Pontiff really indicates his task as ‘builder of bridges’. The same applies to a Cardinal which really indicates a role as ‘chief or essential.’ In figurative use, it pertains to a ‘hinge’, that on which something turns or depends.

Yet people grasp at greatness. So powerful is the desire to be great, or to own something that provides greatness that people are willing to compromise core values. We grasp at greatness. We desire “likes” on our Facebook page.

Ironically it has been this way since the beginning of time. The Bible tells us that Satan desired to be as great as God, and thus Satan too stumbled into his sin of rebellion, and was cast out. It was a desire to be as knowledgeable as the Lord, which led our first parents, Adam and Eve to take a bite out of the forbidden fruit. Their search for greatness introduced this world, and into our lives, the sins of envy, greed, lust prejudice, and hatred.  

Look through your bible. It is positively filled with people who got involved with issues of greatness. The brothers Isaac and Esau got into a family feud as to which would receive a special blessing. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery because they believed he considered himself to be better than they. King Saul struggled for supremacy over David. The list never ends! And then we have the disciples of Jesus. And so, Jesus had to reprimand the twelve. Don’t be childish but rather childlike. Building on the figure of a child, a prime example of powerlessness, Jesus teaches that greatness comes from being the least.

Yet in the last moments of Jesus Galilean ministry his disciples fail him again. Now they can’t handle competition, for someone is casting out demons in the name of Jesus. Their insecurity knows no end as they failed to shut down a single ‘competitor’ casting out demons in the name of Jesus because he was not part of the ‘their group’. Sour grapes have no end because a few lines earlier in Luke 9:40 these very disciples failed miserably at casting out a demon from a little child.

Like the disciples, we misunderstand our relationship with Jesus to be an exclusive one. We must be open and tolerant of others who work ‘in Jesus’ name’. Perhaps in India the need for ecumenism does not seem such a burning issue as much as inter-religious dialogue, but the time has most certainly come for all who profess the Lord Jesus as Saviour, to sit at the same table. We may not see eye to eye but we can walk hand in hand.

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