Today we remember St. James and St. John, the sons of Zebedee called to leave their fishing nets and follow Jesus. As the red colors today remind us, we honor their martyrdom: they eventually drank the cup he drank, as the gospel puts it. But this scene could be played for laughs, it is such a broad caricature of brazen ambition. Whose idea was it anyway, mother’s or her boys’? And the other disciples might well have been angry at the Zebedee family’s outrageous grandiosity while secretly wishing they had brought their mothers along to advance their cause.
In any event, this little scene does give us one of the primary images for Christian leadership: those who wish to lead should be servants of all, just as Christ himself. This is where we get the idea of “servant leadership”. It provides a helpful check against unbridled ambition in the church—and has sometimes been effective in that regard.
The collect for today refers to a “Spirit of self-denying service”. I’m not sure I’d call it “self-denying”. It is, after all, in relationship with others that we actually find our fullest identity, our fullest selves. It is in relationship with God and others that we become our true selves. When the relationships that define us are characterized by loving service, we grow toward our full potential as human beings made in the image and likeness of God.
We see this revealed at the Last Supper when Jesus washed the feet of his followers—and then told them to do the same thing. All are to be servants of all, not just would be leaders. If, in imitation of Christ, all are servants, we weave a fabric of mutuality: a fabric of mutual love, mutual service.
There’s something in the synergies created in this mutuality that brings heaven to earth and earth to heaven.
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