In today’s Gospel, Matthew 20: 17-28, James and John ask Jesus for positions of power in his Kingdom.
It would have been easy for Jesus to just dismiss them as being power-hungry, but he doesn’t.
As Martin Luther King, Jr., noted in his sermon, “The Drum Major Instinct,” Jesus recognized in them the drive that is in all of us, the drive to be recognized, the drive to be important.
This morning, after reading the Gospel, I sat, listened to, and read King’s sermon, available here.
I had heard it first in the mid-eighties and been struck by its call to the greatness we are all capable of – the greatness of love and of service.
Here are a few excerpts that touch me:
[Jesus] said in substance, “Oh, I see, you want to be first. You want to be great. You want to be important. You want to be significant. Well, you ought to be. If you’re going to be my disciple, you must be.” But he reordered priorities. And he said, “Yes, don’t give up this instinct. It’s a good instinct if you use it right. It’s a good instinct if you don’t distort it and pervert it. Don’t give it up. Keep feeling the need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be first in love. I want you to be first in moral excellence. I want you to be first in generosity. That is what I want you to do.”
…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. 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, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. 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. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.
Take some time today to read or listen to this sermon. It changed my life. What is important is to love, to serve. And so today I want to recall these important words of King and carry them with me all day:
You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.