Relevant Scripture: Isaiah 53:4-12 – Hebrews 5:1-10 – Mark 10:35-45
Dear sisters and brothers in our Lord Jesus Christ,
The readings for today bring us very close to Good Friday. Reading about the suffering servant of the Lord in Isaiah is reading about Jesus giving himself up to suffering and death for us to live. Hebrews reminds us that in doing so Jesus is our high priest. He didn’t sacrifice any other creature, but he gave up himself – and he did so as the one who shared our conditions of life. He was as us handed over to the powers of destruction, i.e. Satan, death and sin – yet without sin himself. He was a victim in the powerplay of the mighty. But he was one of us out of his free will; his solidarity had its ground in God’s love.
The Gospel then bring us into focus as his disciples. If he is our master and we his pupils or apprentices, he should set the standard for our way of life and our relationships.
The sad thing is that we are deep into the standards of the surrounding world. We value wealth, power, career, glamour, fame as measures for good fortune, happiness and success. It’s in the spirit of the world that James and John ask to sit besides Jesus when Jesus will be in his glory as a very worldly Messiah (as they imagined him). Jesus however reminds them that he is not the Messiah-King as they expect, his glory comes out of suffering.
The fellow disciples became indignant when they heard about this, but also their reaction was in line with the norms and standards of the world. They also want success and good fortune for themselves and to be more important than others.
But Jesus want to overturn the prevailing standards and norms for greatness. He introduces kingdom-of-God-standards for social life among his followers, in the Church and through Christians in the broader society. He already in his sermon of the mount put forward these new standards in the beatitudes.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
He even set poor people above rich people: Blessed are the poor, woe to the rich. It’s difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. And today’s gospel, rulers and high officials who exercise authority are often oppressive and in doing so they don’t follow the kingdom-of-God-standards. We are reminded of what Mary sings in her great praise of God:
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1)
Jesus says that true greatness is serving love or loving service. Jesus himself is setting the standard or norm: “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.”
This serving love and loving service of one another is in fact what we were created for, as the Son of God created us in his image. And serving love is the inner secret of creation as cosmos, as a world ordered according to God’s law of life. Creation falls into chaos when this law of life is put aside, and we only serve our self-interest.
Jesus is using some strong words for greatness according to the new standard: servant and slave. Let’s for a moment look at the original words.
The word for slave is in Greek doulos, and in Latin servus. We use servant in a milder sense, but original it means slave; you are not your own master; you do what you are asked to do. Humans were not created to be their own masters or a god to themselves, but to follow the will of God, follow the law of life. So, the pope is called servus servorum Dei, the slave of the slaves of God. Every pastor, every Church leader is a slave, obedient to God – and in this they became pastor, i.e. shepherds caring for their flock – or this should be so…
The word for servant in the mild sense of today is Greek diakonos, and in Latin minister. So, when we call the pastor or leader of the congregation a minister it’s a recognition of him or her as a servant, and leaders are through this title reminded that they should not exercise power or control over their flock but serve their congregation in loving kindness as Jesus served us.
Diakonos has also become a specific ministry in the Church. We speak of deacons and of Diakonia. But Diakonia as both an institutionalized ministry and a way of life.
In the early church deacons had administrative tasks, and as a part of that the distribution of money to the poor and the widows. In the early Church deacons were understood as the eyes, ears, mouths, and hands of the bishop. They were like the angels caring messages between God and the congregation and vice versa, as they proclaimed the Gospel og conducted the prayers of the Church for the world. As those who had a deep knowledge of the lives of the members in the congregation they were also mediators helping members to become reconciled.
Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement (WWC Publications, Geneva 2002, p. 305) defines diakonia as “responsible service of the Gospel by deeds and by words performed by Christians in response to the needs of people.”
All diakonia starts as seeing or listening. We’ll have to be challenged from the needs we meet with individuals, groups of people, society and environment.
When we have seen and heard the needs in the context where we live, the next step of Diakonia is reflecting. We’ll have to consider what the needs of this milieu really is, how these needs may be met, and if the Church or Community has the resources to meet the needs.
To see and to hear and to reflect aims at practice. Thus, diakonia is action. Diakonia is about sharing the Gospel with others, so that they receive faith, and so that those in need gains a new life and have their human dignity restored. Diakonia is walking with people in a common learning proces, so that help is help to helping oneself. Diakonia is caring for the sick and the ill and helping people to taking care of their own health. Diakonia includes active listening, soul care (pastoral care and spiritual guidance), listening to confessions, praying for inner healing and for the sick, exorcism, building selfsupporting communities, organizing workers and groups of needy. Diakoni is supported through the intecessions of the Christian community.
Diaconia may have a profetic dimension. Diakonia embodies the norms of God’s kingdom in a world that too often has forgotten the dignity of creation and humankind. Diakonia expresses another measure for a whole and succesful life. Servant love is the norm and measure. Diakonia challenges power structures, serves the week and needy and make the disciples their spokesmen and -women. Diakonia is about justice for the marginalized, and creates a space for every human being irespective of faith, race, sex, or age.
“Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.”