Readings (Year B):
Reflection: Great service
I once attended a national Catholic conference and volunteered to help with some of the behind-the-scenes work. My job was setting up chairs. I attacked this work with the goal of speed and accuracy. I wanted to set up as quickly as possible to get it all done.
I looked across the way and saw another volunteer going slowly. As he set up each chair, he paused as if he was taking a rest before moving on to the next one. “We’ll never finish,” I thought. After I finished my section, I went over to the man who was working slowly. I asked him if he needed help. He declined, saying he was doing okay. I walked away shaking my head as I moved to another section.
Before I restarted, another volunteer came by. “See that man over there setting up the chairs? As he sets up each one, he says a prayer for the person who will sit in that seat, that they may experience God in the way they need during this conference.”
That’s why he was going so slow. He was taking his time to intentionally pray.
As I grabbed my next chair, I began to slow down. Soon I was praying over each chair too.
During the conference, I attended a keynote session. And who did I see on stage? That man—who had been setting up chairs so slowly and intentionally—speaking and sharing from his heart.
“Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant” (Matt. 20:26).
Often when I read this passage where James and his brother John argue about who will sit in a place of honor next to Jesus, I think of how foolish the two apostles are—of how they argue about silly things. I think that the path to greatness is through service. If I can serve more and more, the greater I will become, perhaps even one day sitting at the right hand of Jesus.
The truth is, I am the foolish one.
The gospel doesn’t tell us that the path to greatness is through service. Jesus teaches us that greatness is expressed through service. We don’t act like a servant to become great. We serve because there is greatness in the service of the other.
The dignified act of servanthood and the desire to be at the service of the other for the sake of the kingdom is greatness.
Like James and John, I have been pursuing the wrong thing. Jesus offered his life and everything in it for us. He didn’t do it to become something other than what he already was. His service revealed what already existed within.
As his followers, we are invited into the life of selfless service. Not because it is the path to greatness, but because it reveals what we already are—the beloved children of God. The Son of Man came to serve. As son’s and daughters of the Father, we too can serve as Jesus did, even in setting up chairs.