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Of authorities and positions

Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem. In the verses immediately prior to today’s passage, the teacher, for the third time, announces his fate: he will be insulted, condemned to death, scourged and killed (vv.32-34).

In response we expect the disciples would attempt to dissuade him from travelling, suggest he stop for a moment, wait for better times. But we find none of this.

Instead, after clearly hearing the words on the fate of Jesus, the disciples continue to deceive themselves that he is going up to Jerusalem to begin the Messianic period, defined as the kingdom of this world. Their dreams of glory do not stop, even in the face of death.

James and John, without a hint of discretion, say, “We want you to grant us what we are going to ask you!” They do not say please, but demand, as one who claims a right. 

Christians who are exemplary, committed, available to serve the brethren, and actively participate in all community initiatives, are often tempted to impose themselves on others and their naive desire to excel always ends up creating misunderstandings. It is not surprising that these weaknesses show up among the apostles.

When, among his disciples the claims of honours, privileges and first places re-emerged, Jesus did not show tenderness, as every ambition, even what may seem innocent, calls into question the central point of his proposal. With James and John he was hard and severe, saying, “You don’t know what you are asking.” 

The indignant reaction of the other 10 shows how they too are far from having assimilated the thought of the Master and, behold, there is schism within the group.

 Jesus takes the floor again to clarify the issue of hierarchies and the exercise of power within his community. “As you know,” he says, “the so-called rulers of the nations act as tyrants and the great ones oppress them” (v.42).

The analysis of the way these leaders fulfill their task serves Jesus in defining the way the ministry of the leadership must be done within the Christian community. The disciples have several models of authority under their eyes.

They know the political and religious leaders, rabbis, the scribes and the priests of the temple. All exercise power in the same way: they give orders, claim privileges and demand to be revered as required by the ceremonial manual.

People were expected to kneel before them, kiss their hand and dote carefully on the titles.

Is it by these authorities that the disciples must be inspired?

There must be no doubt or confusion on this point. To his disciples, Jesus gives a clear and irrefutable order, “But it shall not be so among you!” None of these types of authority may be used as an example.

He explains that the model to imitate is the slave, the one who occupies the lowest level in society, the one to whom everyone has the  right to give orders.

Like the servant, he is always attentive, day and night, to the wishes of his master, so he fulfills the role of leadership in the Christian community which must consider all as his superiors, must feel himself to be the least and the servant of all.

The stern message of the Master is aimed not only at those who are invested with authority in the Church. Anyone who wants to follow the Master has to be considered the servant of all.

Father Fernando Armellini CMF     
Claretian Publications