Today on the feast of St. James the Greater, celebrated with special devotion at Santiago de Compostela en Galicia, Spain, the Gospel is Matthew 20: 20-28, one of my favorites and a text that Martin Luther King, Jr., preached on in his “Drum Major Instinct” sermon.
The mother of James and John (in Mark’s Gospel, James and John) approaches Jesus to ask Him to give them a favored spot in His Reign.
Jesus asks them if they are willing to suffer as He will. They say yes. The word reaches the other apostles who are upset, thinking that James and John are being favored by Jesus.
But Jesus remarks that “the rulers of the nations lord it over them…But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant… The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life for the ransom of the multitude.”
The political authorities want power to lord it over others, but the followers of the true Reign, the true Kingdom, seek to serve. Service is the way to be great.
As Martin Luther King, Jr., said:
And so Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. (Amen) That’s a new definition of greatness.
And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, (Everybody) because everybody can serve. (Amen) You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. (All right) You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. (Amen) You only need a heart full of grace, (Yes, sir, Amen) a soul generated by love. (Yes) And you can be that servant.
We can be great by serving and in such a way work for the coming of the Kingdom of God.
Today is also the anniversary of the death of Walter Rauschenbach in 1918. This Protestant minister was a major proponent of what we call “the Social Gospel.” He saw the centrality of the Kingdom of God in Jesus’ preaching and the importance of service, seeking to respond to the social sin in the world.
His realism as well as his hope are clear in this quote:
We shall never have a perfect life. Yet we must seek it with faith…. At best there is always but an approximation to a perfect social order. The kingdom of God is always but coming. But every approximation to it is worthwhile.
And so, seeking the kingdom of God, living as servants, we work for and hope for God’s Reign. And that is not the way of the rulers of the nations.