The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (10:32-45)
Today we hear the passage which is appointed by the Church for the fifth Sunday of Great and Holy Lent. This passage reminds us of what Lent is all about. It’s easy for us to get caught up in the details and to think that fasting and prostrations are the point of Lent. But they aren’t. The point of Lent is to prepare for ourselves to properly worship and celebrate the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and everything that led up to those two most significant events in the history of the entire human race. These two events are the reason why we are here today. These two events are the reason we have meaning, purpose and joy in our lives.
The Lord reminds His disciples in this passage, that He is going up to the holy city Jerusalem and He knows what will happen to Him even before the time has come. He knows that He will be delivered into the hands of sinful men. He knows that He will be mocked cruelly and whipped and beaten and that He will even suffer the shame of being spat upon. Finally He will suffer one of the cruelest forms of death, the death on the cross. But He also knows that these events will not be the end. Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us that He will rise after three days. Of course the disciples had no idea what He was actually saying. They could not in any way imagine the magnitude of what He was telling them.
This is actually quite clear as we see the sons of thunder, James and John approaching our Lord and asking for a small favor. They ask that in the kingdom, the Lord would grant them to sit, one on His right hand and the other at His left. But the Lord immediately corrects them since they were in ignorance regarding their request. To sit at the right or left hand of the King is to sit in a place of authority over others. To sit in a place of recognition and glory and honor. Yet our Lord Jesus has just finished telling the disciples that there is nothing honorable about what He is about to experience in Jerusalem.
He is the Lord of all and yet He must remind them that even He will not be treated like an earthly king. The ways of the kingdom and the ways of the world are not similar. In fact Our Lord tells the two ambitious disciples that “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be servant of all.” Our Lord’s lesson is not just for those two ambitious disciples, it is for each of us. We are reminded that no matter what our job or vocation in life may be, no matter our title or profession, we are called to serve one another, to treat ourselves as below others and to treat others as better than ourselves. And what does it mean to serve one another?
I’m sure that each of us has a mental image of what that means. We all serve one another well at various times. A wife becomes great by serving her husband joyfully. A mother becomes great through her untiring dedication to serving her children and household. A husband and father likewise becomes great through such dedication to His wife and family. Children demonstrate their greatness not by arguing with one another and raising their voices to one another, but through serving one another and helping one another, the older helping the younger. Even here in the life of the church we show our true character and God recognizes us based on our love and service for one another. And the ways that we can and do serve each other are so many, yet we are always being pushed past our comfort zone to do and to be more by the grace of God. This is possible because it is the Lord Himself who energizes us and gives us His life through the worship and the sacraments of the Church.
But Christ truly corrected the understanding of His disciples and He corrects our understanding. To be great you and I are called to serve one another and the greatest service is to give your life for others. This is why we have a celebration called memorial day and why soldiers receive special burial practices and honors; because they died in service of others. Likewise each one of us is challenged and encouraged and emboldened to rise to serve one another with our whole life. We give our lives for one another when we take time out of our busy schedules and our busy lives to assist others. We give of ourselves when we donate and give to the physical needs of others. We give of ourselves and our lives when we submit our wills to others instead of insisting on our own ways all the time. We serve one another when we try to be with others who are not at their best. Perhaps they are lonely, or despairing or in pain and suffering. The greatest of the saints learn to dwell in these difficult places with their neighbors and those whom they love. In such moments we become like the Lord who descended into Hades. We can descend into people’s place of pain and say to them “I can’t solve your problem, but I am willing to be with you here where you are hurting.” This is what it is to be a servant and to be a Christian, a child of God. We saw a beautiful example of this in the life of St. Nekarios of Aegina when he worked to clean and pick up all of the responsibilities of the sick and struggling custodian of the school. He did this so that the man might continue to receive his salary and support his family instead of becoming destitute and having his whole life crumble.
We are called, as the disciples were, to this type of life by the example of the Lord of heaven and earth. He who hung the earth upon the waters proved Himself to be the greatest servant through allowing Himself to hang upon the wood of the cross as a ransom for the sins of the whole world. His love for the Father overflowed to the whole world, to all of creation, to all of humanity, to all of us. Such love is more than a feeling, it is a transformation. No one can receive such love and not be changed. Today we remember the power of the love of Christ and His holy mother through the remembrance of the life of St. Mary of Egypt. She lived a truly sinful life, addicted to sex, to attention, to parties. Yet her encounter with the Mother of God and with the precious wood of the cross of our Lord, these powerful signs of the love of God completely changed her.
May we also run to Christ who inspires us and heals us by His love and has shown us the path to greatness through His own example of undying love. Glory be to God forever AMEN.