Here we are faced with an answer to a question that any Christian may ask himself or others – whether he is the Pope in Rome who, in his pride, has taken the place of God, or an illiterate shepherd who may not know how to sign his own name. The question is: who is the first among men and who may approach God?
This is the question that the sons of Zebedee, apostles James and John, asked Christ, hoping that He would answer that such an honour was theirs, since they were friends of His. They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand, and the other on Your left, in Your glory.” (Mark 10:37) “And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John.” (Mark 10:41)
This question posed by the two apostles who were closest to Christ provoked the anger of the other apostles. The question of primacy on which the Bishop of the Roman Church insists so stubbornly, has caused much anger over the centuries. It was with this question that the Pope provoked a conflict and, consequently, a schism which is not about to be healed any time soon. Had they heard the word of God, this would not have happened. The answer that the Lord gave to His closest disciples was one that He would have given to anyone, even to the Pope, if the latter had cared to listen. “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you, but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant.” (Mark 10:42-44)
There we have the answer to the question of primacy. It is clear that the imposition of the Pope as the Supreme Lord of the Church has nothing to do with what Christ taught and as such, cannot be pleasing to God.
But let us leave the Pope to his business in the Vatican and let us return for a moment to our reality and let us, within our own limits, analyze Christ’s words and our place in them. Let us, for a moment, depart from the infiniteness of the Church and focus just on our own church community and apply Christ’s words about servitude to others on our own circumstances. Each one of us is bound by Christ’s command, and those who are the first in our midst, those that we have elected to be our leaders as the best and worthiest amongst us, are bound before all others to heed Christ when He commands humility, meekness, and if need be, humiliation before all others and for the sake of all others.
When God gives a command, He shows us by His own example how to carry out that command. He says of Himself, ”For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) And St. Paul the Apostle says of Christ that He was humbled, taking upon Himself the form of a servant. (Philippians 2:7)
Did not the Lord, in the moments preceding His suffering, wash the feet of His apostles? By doing this He taught them one of the most important lessons that was carved deep into their memories. “You call me Teacher and Lord,” He said. “And you say well, for so I am. If I, then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:13-15)
Those that we have chosen to lead us must be ready for sacrifice. If they are not, it is better for them not to take on a responsibility that is too big for them. The word church administrator comes from the word “to administer,” which means to serve. Broadly speaking, there is no authority over others, only service to others, service administered with love. In addition, no reward should be ever expected with any type of service, except a reward from God. St. Paul says of himself that he served the Lord in humility, his reward for it being many tears and trials that befell him. (Acts 20:19)
Those that pray and serve in the church must not expect any gratification and earthly rewards for their good deeds, and not only that: they must be ready for sacrifice, endure misfortune and ridicule, and be treated as “scapegoats.” On top of all that they must not complain, because each of them knew, upon taking on his or her duties, what these duties involve.
And when we have done all that has been commanded, the Lord instructs us to say, “We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.” (Luke 17:10)
St. Paul says, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem the other better than himself.” (Philippians 2:3)
There were always those in the Church that believed themselves to be irreplaceable and better than anyone else, who believed that after they were gone there would ensue a catastrophe. Even today, there are some that believe that the world ends when they go, and they are worried sick that when they are gone there will be no one to open the church doors.The Church of Christ has outlived innumerable patriarchs and rulers, it has outlasted many a an “irreplaceable” administrator, and it will live on long after each one of us is gone, no matter how great an importance we attach to ourselves.
The apostles asked Christ a question that is as relevant to us today as it was to them. The answer they received is valid for all eternity: “But he who is greater among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. “ (Matthew 23:11-12)