September 19, 2021 – Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The following is a homily I delivered at St. Pius X in 2018 on the same readings we have today (James 3:16-4:3 and Mark 9:30-37)
I want to begin by talking about the corner office. In the many lavish office buildings that dot the skyline, the corner offices are the most desirable offices on each floor. The corner office is usually larger and has windows on two sides. There is an assumed prestige that comes with occupying a corner office. If you have met Fr. Jim in his office, you may have noticed it is a corner office, well-suited to his status as our pastor. If you looked for my office, you would discover I don’t have one – well-suited to my status as deacon.
In addition, the higher the floor, the more prestige the occupant enjoys. The goal for many that work hard each day is to eventually make it to the corner office of the top floor. Those that do have “made it” in the business world.
We want to be the best, or be perceived as the best, and that top floor corner office is evidence.
Titles may also afford one honor and prestige – Regional Manager, District Supervisor, Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer.
If we are honest with ourselves, many of us covet that corner office and that prestigious title. We are a little jealous that our work space is smaller and darker, and our job does not come with a fancy title.
I have to confess that I have fallen prey to this myself.
I remember being interviewed once while serving as Director of Fatima Retreat House. When the interviewer was done, she said she wanted to verify a few things for her story. She asked me to spell my last name and then asked for my official title. When I said I was the Director, she said, “Just Director? Or Executive Director?” You would not believe how close I came to saying, “Executive Director.” The way she said it made it sound very important. I replied sadly, “Just Director.”
Many of you know I was recently named the Director of the Permanent Deacon Formation program for Saint Meinrad. This appointment ushered in a brief battle with humility. When I moved into my big new office, I sent a text to Carol. I could have written something like, “I am humbled by this appointment. The cemetery of the Benedictine monks is visible from my window. To be on this holy ground with these men of prayer is an honor.” Wouldn’t that have been a beautiful text?
However, that is not what my text said. Instead, my text was accompanied by two pictures – one of the interior of my office and another of my name and title on the door. The words of my text read, “Check this out! I’m a pretty big deal down here!”
Today’s readings speak to the downside of this way of thinking, beginning with the words we heard in the Letter from James: Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder…
Jesus called his apostles to task when he discovered they were engaged in their own “corner office discussions.” The gospel says they were “…discussing among themselves who was the greatest.”
The apostles were already in corner offices. From among all of the disciples, they had been chosen. They held the title of Apostle; they were a part of The Twelve and recognized as the favored disciples.
Even so, that was not enough. Individually, each wanted to be recognized as the greatest of the twelve. A corner office was not enough; they wanted the corner office on the top floor.
Jesus used it as a teaching moment. “If anyone wishes to be first,” Jesus said. “He shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” I am sure his words embarrassed and humbled the apostles.
With these simple words he imparted a powerful message. You were not chosen in order to be honored; you were chosen to serve others. The title of Apostle is not one of prestige but one of servitude. You do not do my work for personal gain, but rather, for the glory of God.
So what did Jesus mean by the servant of all? Being the servant of all was more than healing, comforting, and otherwise meeting the needs of the people that approached them. It was more than teaching on a hillside or preaching in the temple. It was even more than miraculously feeding 5,000 people with a few loaves and some fish.
Truly being the servant of all meant seeking out those most in need, looking beyond the crowds to the fringes of society. It meant touching the leper. It meant conversing with beggars. It meant entering the homes of widows and visiting prisoners. Being the servant of all meant being a voice for the voiceless and serving others that could offer nothing in return. When you are the servant of all there is no immediate payback or recognition, and you will not earn a corner office.
Jesus wanted to emphasize what he meant by servant of all by placing a small child in their midst. Children are bundles of need, completely helpless. They need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, and protected. And, of course, they need unconditional love, the love that can only come from a servant’s heart.
When we help those that cannot help themselves, as a parent loves a child, we reveal a servant’s heart.
Who is the child that Jesus has put in our midst, the helpless person in need of the unconditional love of a servant’s heart?
Is it a spouse or loved one with failing health? That needs around-the-clock care…needs fed, bathed, and dressed?
Is it the young father at the soup kitchen that wants to provide for his family and simply cannot? Or the single mother at the shelter that has nowhere else to go?
Is it the isolated person suffering from depression? The one that needs someone with a servant’s heart to tell him he has value? That he is loved?
Is it the completely helpless unborn child whose mother is contemplating abortion? A child that needs someone to be his voice?
Or maybe the helpless child is someone who is always in our midst – a spouse, parent, or child that is temporarily helpless while going through a difficult time. Can we be selfless enough to turn our attention toward that person in his or her time of need?
What about the friends or co-workers that currently feel helpless as they struggle with what is going on in our Church? Can we lend them an ear? Encourage them? The problems of the Church will not be resolved from the top down, but from the inside out. Can we be selfless enough to facilitate that inside healing for those that feel helpless?
Referring to the completely dependent child in their midst, Jesus told his apostles, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.”
That is our payback. There is no earthly payback, but the view from heaven is far more beautiful than the view from any corner office.