After you!

In a world of instant gratification, of putting oneself first, and an emphasis on status, we often forget that as Christians, our main purpose is to serve others. This weekend’s Gospel reminds us that with status and recognition, there comes a price, a price that too often is more than we can handle. For anyone who finds themselves in any type of leadership role, you fully understand the responsibility that comes with the title or status. 

In the Gospel, two of the disciples want to be recognized, treated as someone of importance, yet had no idea of what this involved or meant. Not only did Jesus say something about their appeal — simply asking them if they believed they could actually take up and drink from the “cup” Jesus had been asked to drink from — their fellow disciples also chastised them for their impertinent request. 

Too often we long to be recognized for a job well done, for some acknowledgment of our talents or skills, but with recognition, often there is added burdens. Suddenly, we are called on to do more, there is a greater demand on our time, and that moment of gratification becomes more of a liability than a reward. It does not mean that our abilities and labor should go unnoticed or unrecognized, but that our actions and deeds should be such that we are willing to do it over and over again for the benefit of others. Jesus reminds us that like Him, we are asked to serve each other, to put others first, to take care of one another, with our ultimate goal being the reward of Heaven. 

So many of us start off with grandiose plans for bringing others closer to Christ and the Church.  We believe we have all the answers and are going to make a difference in other’s lives. I know when I first began teaching catechism, I believed I could make a difference and I was going to change the way people viewed their faith and religious beliefs. It did not take long to be humbled and realize that I, too, was and still am a work in progress. 

One of the dangers that can occur is that we begin to act in ways that makes us appear better than others rather than living as true Christians. We become judgmental, we notice another’s faults, and we try to push “religious dogma” in a way that slowly begins to belittle others. If we have any say in what is happening around us, we begin to push our own agendas, forgetting that our roles are those of servants — too often driving people away rather than bringing them closer. 

Most often it is our actions, not our words that speak volumes. People notice what we do, and if our actions are welcoming, are of service to others, then our words are just a bonus. On the other hand if we are all talk with very little action, people begin to move away, they begin to tire of our haughtiness and look elsewhere for what they need or long for. It does not take long for others to see through our façade and recognize that we are not living what we are preaching. 

Like the disciples, we are reminded that “whoever wishes to be first will be slave to all,” in our haste to be the first in line, we fail to notice the effect it has on others; or worse yet, the effect it has on us and how we are living our lives. If John and James fully understood what they were asking, they would not have broached the subject, let alone toy with the idea of being elevated to be at Jesus’ right and left. This is true for us as well, too often we want something so desperately, or want the recognition at all costs, yet when it finally occurs, it is not what we expected or anticipated. Or the requirements are beyond our capability or carry a price that we were not willing or ready to pay. 

Suffice it to say, that even though it is a good feeling to be recognized for being successful, for achieving our goals, and for going above and beyond, it is also good to just know that we did the right thing, even if no one acknowledges our work or deeds. 

I have to admit that the stories of anonymous donations and packages arriving to needy families from unknown sources, carry so much more meaning. Not only does the benefactor remain in the shadows, it also helps the recipient feel cared for without having to feel obligated to thank the person publicly — which brings more attention to their plight. 

It is this that Jesus is reminding us of, that we need not be the center of attention, the first in line, or put up on a pedestal to earn the rewards of Heaven, but rather to put ourselves last. We are asked to serve others freely and willingly, not looking for recognition, but because it is what we should be doing as followers of Christ. We need to be willing to put another’s needs before our own, to step into the shadows, allowing others to be seen and recognized, and to wait patiently at the end of the line for our just rewards. 

Anchor columnist Rose Mary Saraiva is a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Fall River and works for the diocesan Office of Faith Formation. 

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