In today’s Gospel Jesus tells his disciples “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be a slave of all”.
The notion of being a “slave” is a somewhat foreign concept for us in 2012. Slavery was abolished in the world over two hundred years ago. Nevertheless, in the first century the word “slave” was well understood. A “slave” was the property of another person. Someone who was under another person’s domination. If being the “first”, or the “most revered” or the “most important” amongst people is one’s goal there is only one way to achieve such a status. One must consider oneself the “property” and “under the domination of” everyone else.
When two of Jesus closest friends sought to be the “first” and the “greatest” amongst all of the disciples, Jesus warned James and John that they would need to be “slaves” to everyone else. To become a “slave” to everyone else was a destiny they could not contemplate.
There are many people in our world who strive to be “first” and the “greatest” amongst others. Some of them are political leaders others are business tycoons etc. None of them achieve their goal because becoming a “slave” to everyone else is impossible for them. History tells many stories about presidents, prime ministers, kings, queens and even church leaders who have failed in their attempts to be “first” over and above everyone else.
We are all equal in the eyes of God. No one amongst us has a prior right to God’s love and mercy. None of us is “first” in the mind of God.
Today’s Gospel message teaches us that racism, bigotry, exploitation, self- aggrandizements etc. are human traits that are motivated by a desire to be “first” over and above other people. Like James and John in the gospel story today we need to abandon such desires and traits.