19 October, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) - Vocation 2 - Service


Mark 10:35-45
‘The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as ransom for many.’ (Mark 10:45)
Last Sunday we started exploring the vocation we have been given at our Baptism, the call Jesus addresses to each and every one of us with the simple words, ‘Come, follow me.’ Specifically, if you can remember I talked to you about the meaning of the command Jesus addresses to us when he says, ‘Go sell everything you own and give the money to the poor; then come, follow me’ (Mark 10:21). I said that this is “a hard, high calling” we can only accept as a generous response to the immeasurable love available to us in Jesus. Today we continue our exploration of vocation as a generous response to love by looking at the pattern of life that Jesus himself traces for us when he says, ‘The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as ransom for many.’

Let’s look at the first part of this saying; ‘the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve’. Serving others and God, rather than being served, represents a step up, a change of gear, from the call we have heard last week. Yet, if we genuinely take Jesus as our pattern of life, then the call to service forms an integral part of our Christian vocation; after calling us to leave material things behind Jesus shows us that there is one more thing we ought to abandon, and that is our pride – that vice that prevents us from making ourselves servants of others. In Jesus’ life we see a life completely free from pride and completely devoted to others; by following this way of life we ought to do the same, helping to those around us in every possible way.
However, this is more easily said than done – it’s a good sentiment, but how can we put it into practice? I would suggest starting with small things. Let’s think of the countless occasions to do good which are presented to us every day, the many ways in which we could serve those around us… maybe our vocation to service should lead us to help a sick relative even when it is tough; this vocation could prompt us to give plenty of attention to a struggling friend, or perform gestures of love towards a spouse after a bitter argument… By learning to serve others within these small things we’ll learn to serve in greater things still and to commit ourselves to one of the many social projects around us. It is through things like this that we can live out the pattern of service traced for us by Jesus.

But let us look at the second part of our saying, as Our Lord says that he came ‘to give his life as ransom for many’. This is another aspect of our common vocation to be disciples may seem remote to us but this actually crowns perfectly the idea of constant service to others – surely Jesus gave his life as ransom for many on the cross, but we too can do the same should the occasion presents itself. Let me give you an example – St Maximillian Kolbe.
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of this 20th century Polish saint and if you haven’t I encourage you to look him up. A statue of him is on the west door of Westminster Abbey together with a few other modern day saints. In 1941 Maximillian was interned in Auschwitz concentration camp. After the disappearance of three prisoners the camp authorities retaliated by condemning ten men to death by starvation as a deterrent against any further escapes. At this point Maximillian offered to take the place of one of these men and to die instead of him. Maximillian ransomed the life of a fellow prisoner, he literally offered his life for a man who he did not know and who thanks to him survived the horrors of Auschwitz.
Now, I know that this is might be an extreme example, but it is an example worth having before us, because all too often we think that when Jesus says that he came ‘to give his life as ransom for many’ he is talking only about himself and that his pattern of life, in this case, has very little to offer to us.

When we hear Jesus saying
‘Go sell everything you own and give the money to the poor; then come, follow me’ (Mark 10:21)
and
‘The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as ransom for many’
we may immediately think that these saying do not apply to us – to the average person in the pew. Undoubtedly, both the call to leave things behind and the call to service are embodies in a particular way within the Church; religious congregations – that is monks and nuns – renounce all possessions making solemn vows of poverty, while deacons are ordained to a distinctive ministry of service – forsaking aspirations of career in order to focus their efforts into serving the Church community, the outcast and the marginalised. However, the call of Jesus to do both the things we heard today and last week is addressed to everyone, and everyone should respond generously to it at the best of their abilities. Applying these sayings to our lives means to respond generously to the one who calls us each by name saying, ‘Come, follow me’.

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