Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Choosing Obscurity

Sometimes I think I know so well what Jesus is going to say, but then he goes and surprises me.

Rhetorical questions are supposed to ask a question to which the audience knows the implied answer. Unfortunately (for me or for Jesus, I’m not really sure), I didn’t know where Jesus was leading me in this morning’s gospel lesson (Luke 22:24-30). Speaking with his disciples, Jesus asks, “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves?” But I’m already anticipating where he’s going with this. I know he’s the one who serves. So I’m thinking in my mind that Jesus is going to make some big point about how in God’s kingdom the one who is the greatest is the servant at the table. But that’s not what he says.

He continues, “Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” Wait. Wait, wait. I thought the new kingdom mentality was that the servant was greatest of all, but that’s not what he’s saying. He’s not inviting me to greatness by becoming a servant. He’s inviting me to become even less by serving others. Secretly (though not any more), I’ve been hoping to achieve greatness, which is why I’ve been doing the whole servant thing. But now I’m discovering that the path of servant-hood is still the past of the least. What’s so attractive about that?

Everyone knows Mother Teresa. She chose a life of poverty and humble, dirty service. And for most of her life, she achieved relative obscurity. But, towards the end, she became a rock star of humility. Even in the world’s eyes, she achieved greatness by choosing the path of service and self-emptying. But that’s not what Jesus is calling us to. (No hard feelings, MT, right?)

Jesus isn’t teaching me to shoot for the stars by being a servant. He’s asking me to expect a life in the dirt. In other words, we don’t do this for an ulterior motive. We’re not called to some back-door path to greatness. And that leads me to a new question: What am I willing to give up…really? To what extent am I willing to be a servant to all?

Today is the feast of St. Bartholomew. I don't know anything about him. I even looked him up on Wikipedia, and I still don't know anything about him. I do know that he's not the patron saint of obscurity, but perhaps he might as well be. I suppose someone needs to be remembered for that so the rest of us can fade away into nothing.

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