Collect and Readings for The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, Proverbs 31:10-31, Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12-22, Jeremiah 11:18-20, Psalm 1 and 54, James 3:13-14:3, 7-8a, Mark 9:30-37;The Prayer for today O Lord, we beseech you mercifully to hear the prayers of your people who call upon you; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil them; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Plato reckoned that the only people suitable for leadership and positions of power were those who would never want to do it. The corrupting influence of power is clear for all to see, and we can all think of people in positions of greatness who are there through their ambition rather than their suitability for the office! In the Gospel reading the disciples are not spared the gaze of the world at their petty arguing about which of them is most important, carrying most status. As we recall our own (probably private) conversations about what people think of us, we can humble ourselves with them as we listen to Jesus’ teaching.
The kind of values we usually set store by are up ended by Jesus’ criteria for greatness. Being the last of all and the servant of all is, for a start, likely to go unnoticed and unappreciated most of the time. But we usually would expect praise and acknowledgement for humble service, and grumble if it wasn’t forthcoming. Jesus is talking about enjoying working for others without recognition; keeping such service secret as far as possible.
This little child is a dramatic visual aid of the vulnerable and those with lowest status, without rights or wealth or power. And Jesus is suggesting that we consider ourselves servants with fewer rights than these little ones. We are to gather up all our ambitions about wealth, power and status, which are bound to affect our attitudes to others, and scatter them on the wind, leaving us free and unburdened, so that we can simply serve others in humility and love. We have the shining example of such a life in Jesus himself.
All the battles and strife which James talks about stem from this drive to be considered best, or to be better than other people, or any kind of trophy. Sadly, none of it impresses God, and none of it helps us fulfil our true selves, even though Satan persuades us that it will give us what we crave. As James suggests, we need to stand up to Satan and then we will find he slinks away, and we are totally valued, so there was no need to strive after any of those things. Loving obedient service, in simple humility, is what gladdens the heart of God, who already loves us completely.
Some things to reflect on:
Do you strive to be better than the net person for the wrong reasons?
When did you last put yourself out for someone else and not expect it to get noticed?
How can we give up our competitiveness and simply do tasks for the joy of serving others?
God bless and stay safe and well.
Rev’d Fiona Robinson