Proper 24B: Mark 10:35-45
So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. (Mark 10: 42-44)
After James and John asked to sit on either side of Jesus when Jesus is seated in glory, the other disciples were upset with James and John for trying to assure their own status. Knowing the disciples were quarreling about who would be the greatest among them, Jesus explained that leadership among his followers differed from the leadership model they saw around them in the secular world, the world of the Gentiles. In a world dominated by the Roman Empire, rulers were tyrants who lorded it over others. This is reversed in Jesus’s vision of the beloved community of his followers: the greatest among them, the leaders, are there to serve the others, not to be served. A leader in God’s kingdom is primarily concerned with the welfare of others.
This is a timely Gospel text here in the United States. We are seeing in our nation today what happens when the well-being of the many is sacrificed to the pursuit of wealth and status for the few. We are seeing the middle class shrink while the wealthiest among us make decisions for their own benefit with little regard for the rest of us. Many of those in power don’t even pretend to care about the well-being of others, appealing to ideas more in line with Ayn Rand than with Jesus of Nazareth.
When leaders look only to their own short-term interest instead of the long-term interests of the majority, environmental degradation is one of the results. With regard to climate change, for example, the stakes are high. The World Resources Institute has produced a chart showing the difference half a degree of warming makes in a variety of areas that impact our quality of life and our economic well-being. I recommend taking a look at this, as it gives an accessible summary to help us better understand why climate change is such an urgent issue and why governments need to prioritize large-scale action to mitigate climate change.
In the United States, money from the fossil fuel lobby has heavily influenced those holding elective office, discouraging them from taking effective action against global warming. Officials have looked at their own short-term gain instead of the welfare of their nation. Instead of being servants of those who have elected them, they have effectively lorded it over us by lining their own pockets. To me, it’s especially offensive that many of those who fail to act as servant leaders self-identify as Christians, often emphatically so. Jesus is clear that supporting tyrants and pursuing our own status while ignoring the needs of those we should be serving is not compatible with Christian discipleship. This week's Gospel lesson is clear about the way for Christians to exercise leadership, and the science tells us we can't continue with business as usual. Our lives and the stability of everything that supports us and other living things are at stake.