When I was seventeen years old, I attended a Methodist church where the pastor always encouraged and empowered others. One day I decided to ask him who his favorite student was, expecting to hear my name. So I asked, “Pastor, who is your favorite?” “Why are you asking?” he replied. “I just want to know,” I said. “Nobody,” he answered. “I have a different relationship with each of you.” Then I asked again, “Yes, but who is your favorite? You must have one.” He smiled and said, “I know you want me to say that you are the one. I love all of you. I have no special preference for any of you.”
I dropped the conversation although I was not fully satisfied by the answer. I did not care about the others; I just wanted to be the “favorite.”
Today’s passage reminds me that on many occasions we are like the disciples who focus on themselves rather than on others. Despite the fact the disciples don’t answer Jesus’ question, Jesus gives them the answer to their quarrel.
As I reflect on my experience with the pastor, I remember that I never asked him again about his favorite. I decided to stay with him and learn from him. Twenty-three years later, he is still my pastor. He became my mentor, and I have spent more years with him than anyone else. All this was possible because I stopped trying to be above others. Otherwise, I would not be sharing this story with you today.
Jesus tells us today that we become the greatest not by seeking recognition or being served but by choosing to humble ourselves to serve others.
Almighty God, give us the courage to refrain from seeking to be above others. Remind us that you do not call the best; you call those willing to be servants. Amen.
Proverbs describes the noble wife and sets a standard that can seem impossible. This woman is capable and respected but also generous and wise. She serves but is not weak. Is she a “superwoman,” and do all women need to be “superwomen”? No, she is noble because she follows the counsel of the psalmist and is deeply rooted in the teachings of God. Therefore, she sets a standard for everyone to emulate, not just women. James, another teacher of wisdom, encourages believers to show these same characteristics by following the wisdom given by God. In Mark the disciples display a lack of wisdom by arguing over who is the greatest. Jesus reminds them that greatness in God’s eyes comes through service, not through seeking recognition.
• Read Proverbs 31:10-31. How have societal expectations shaped your life? How do you allow them to shape the ways you interact with others?
• Read Psalm 1. When have you had to choose between wickedness and righteousness? What influenced your choice?
• Read James 3:13–4:3, 7-8a. You can choose the way you react to conflict. How can facing your internal struggles help you deal with external conflict?
• Read Mark 9:30-37. With what are you too preoccupied? How do your personal worries constrain your perspective?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
View a growing list of resources for the spiritual work of overcoming racism.