...They did not know the secret purposes of God, nor hoped for the wages of holiness, nor discerned the prize for blameless souls - Wisdom of Solomon 2
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. - Mark 9
Dear friends -
No, the disciples weren't arguing about whether Willie Mays was greater than Babe Ruth. Jesus might have cut them some slack about that question. They were arguing about which one AMONG THEM was the greatest.
I hope I'm not the only one to whom this has ever happened; it goes like this. You're sitting around in the evening with someone with whom you're quite close - probably your partner. Not much has been said for a while, as you each live in your own reverie. Suddenly, the other says to you, "Whatcha thinking, honey?"
Uh-oh. Busted. "I need to come up with something good really fast here, because I really don't want her/him to know what I was thinking." Maybe we were re-hashing some petty grievance we've been nursing that our partner is tired of hearing about. Maybe we're daydreaming about someone attractive who caught our eye. Maybe we're just wishing we were off with our buddies doing something more fun and interesting than sitting there staring into space.
Or maybe we're thinking about how we wish we were more well-known, famous, glorious, or just plain more significant in the world. This seems to be what the disciples were bickering about when Jesus caught them short by asking them what they were discussing.
The arguments that infect religion about "who is the greatest" - pathetic and destructive as they can be - are, finally, expressions of our anxiety about whether we can possibly be as gentle, sharing, and servant-like as God calls us to be. We know that humility is our deepest challenge, so we stridently declare ourselves to be more humble than anyone else. Ugh.
A life of faith is a rough slog, at least for many of us. We're filled with doubts about whether we truly believe some of what we're "supposed to believe." We're filled with anxiety about whether we can ever live up to the challenge that is expressed in what Jesus told his disciples after he caught them arguing about who was greatest: "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all."
And an awful lot of us walk away from spiritual communities - or never enter into them - either because they seem to offer nothing of use for our own spiritual journeys, or they actively betray us on that wrestling path. We do not know, as the Wisdom of Solomon says, how to hope "for the wages of holiness."
Wait a minute; the wages of holiness? What are those? Do they include, as Jesus seems to suggest, always moving to the back of the line? Always being the servant, and never the served?
Apparently so. In the prayer we speak following our Sunday offering, we sometimes say, "It is here that we learn that giving and receiving are the same thing."
Maybe there's really no useful difference between the front of the line and the back of the line. How might the world change if we really lived that lesson?
The journey to knowing the truth of servanthood may the hardest trip we can take. But, if God is right - and I am sure (sometimes only grudgingly so) that God is right - then, upon arriving at that truth, we will find that Creation is infinitely sweeter than we had ever dared to imagine.
Let us take this journey together. Since it's a tough one, we all need the company. And when we get there... oh, when we get there...
And one of the wondrous things is this: once we really take the journey together, we find we've already arrived. We don't have to wait until some vague time in the future to discover that giving and receiving are the same thing.
Trust God with this. We worship at 10 AM. Or at least, we start then.