What do we expect as a result of our faithfully being in church Sunday after Sunday? Seriously, what is it that we expect as a result of our faithfulness in celebrating the Eucharist week after week? There have been surveys done that reveal that the major reasons Catholic’s cite for going to church are as varied as we are as people. Some are there out of a sense of duty or out of a fear of sin. Some are there out of a habit. Some go to keep peace in the family but cannot wait until they are on their own. Some are there to pray, to connect with God. Some go only for the sacrament of Eucharist. What the survey reveals is that in one sense we are there because it promises us something even if that promise is misunderstood or misinterpreted or elusive.
Today we hear that James and John wanted an honored place in paradise as a result of their following Jesus. Last week we heard the disciples remind Jesus that they left everything behind in order to follow him. They were not so subtly in asking for a something in return for their faithfulness.
So is it wrong for us to expect something as a result of our being in church week after week? I think it is ingrained in us to believe that by our doing the right thing, we should be rewarded. But what do we do when the thing we seek is not what Jesus tells us we should desire?
That is exactly the point in today’s gospel. What we expect from God as disciples is not in sync with God’s job description of being a disciple. The truth is that God does have a plan for each of our lives and integral to his plan is that we become a servant of all. I will tell you that most of us haven’t a clue to the true meaning of becoming a servant of our God. Even us in the clergy and those who are visibly the most faithful in matters of faith.
A servant is the unrecognized, unseen, unrewarded presence always at the beck and call of the master. A servants life is ordered to total dedication to the will of their Master. A servant will sacrifice everything for the sake of following their master’s direction and desires. A servant will always anticipate their master’s will and would often be in motion to satisfy that will long before the master has to remind them of their duty.
Jesus by telling us that we need to be servants is telling us our focus; our dedication should always be only doing what the master wills. Our reason for being in church is not for us to gain anything but to place ourselves in front of the master. It is there that we listen to and give honor to the Master. It is not about us or what reward we are going to receive by going to church. It is not about receiving anything. We should be there giving ourselves to the Master and by our actions, words and deeds worshiping him for his providential care of us.
Being a servant is about loving God so much that we are watching, listening, and placing ourselves in a position to respond to the Master. Respond with our song, respond with our prayers, respond with our hearts, and respond with our lives. Remember we are to love God with our whole heart, mind, strength and soul.
There are some interesting books which have taken a hard look at the way we respond to Christ’s call to follow. One of these books is titled “Intentional Discipleship” and another is titled “Rebuilt.” In both of these we are told that our focus as a church has shifted from the early church’s making disciples to forming a religious class. The result is that instead of becoming disciples we have become the very Pharisees Jesus criticized.
This has created a declining in church attendance and a righteousness in those that remain which leaves little room for forming disciples. We have become so entrenched that we will resist any move to change what we are doing. Yet if we are to respond to the gospel message to make disciples of all nations then we need to change.
Change what is the question and the answer has always been that we need to allow our hearts to be changed by the Holy Spirit. This is the only thing God desires of us – our hearts. It is only by a changed heart that we can move from being religious to becoming a disciple.
We cannot ignore the gospel message to become servants. We cannot ignore the gospel message to die to self in order that we might live. We cannot ignore the call of Christ to follow him to the very heart of the Father and in doing so have our hearts changed.
Today the scriptures are challenging us once again to look at what we are doing as we gather as a Body of Christ. The scriptures are challenging us to look at how we give witness to our love of God as we live out our lives each day. Do we in all we do show that we love God with our whole heart mind, strength and soul? Do we come here as servants giving everything to serve the Master or do we only come to receive? Do we love and forgive as Christ loved and forgave?
Jesus today reminds us that what we do during liturgy is not about us getting anything. It is about our transformation so we can go out as disciples and servants to build the kingdom of God so others will know the great joy of serving God.