All politicians are local. They’re inescapable, and lobbying to take an even loftier position in our lives. That must have been how Jesus felt in today’s gospel when James and John asked for the highest positions in his cabinet. But Jesus was suspicious of their motives, as we often are when politicians ask us to elect them to public service, into a position of great honor but also great responsibility—like the presidency. This position comes with such heavy responsibilities and exacts such a great toll on one’s life that we wonder why anyone in their right mind would want the job. Could they be motivated by Greed? Pride? Lust for power?
Those are three of humanity’s biggest, most common sins, and we find them in clergy as well as politicians. They take a vow of poverty, but there’s temptation to use that vow to attract admiration. There’s a great section in Ralph Martin’s “The Fulfillment of All Desire,” where the author illustrates how such poverty may not be so poor at all. He tells of the experience Father Benedict Groeschel had when he visited the very impressive house of a religious order. “If this is poverty, I’d hate to see what celibacy is like,” Groeschel said.
Martin observes: “Since the involuntary poverty of lay people is not highly praised, it can in fact be poorer than the voluntary poverty of religious, whose lives are often praised.”
Jesus understood this and so was onto what his disciples were up to in today’s gospel:
“You know that among the gentiles those they call their rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt,” Jesus said. “Among you this is not to happen. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all.”
Wonder how many of us would aspire to that low public office?