In our culture it is common to speak of disorders in terms of the current dictionary definition; “an abnormal physical or mental condition.” They can cause distress in various ways and usually are treatable. In the letter of James he speaks of disorder in terms of the Christian community as the result of jealousy and selfish ambition. He contrasts a community that is disordered to one that is ordered. A community that draws on Wisdom from above is ordered and the fruits of this are peace, gentleness, compliance, and mercy. As followers of Jesus we should be striving to live in ordered communities with our families, our parishes, our neighborhood, our work and beyond. This is a big challenge because where a community is present faults are present and at times can distract from and even dwarf all the good that is present.
How can we go about bringing order into a disordered situation? One way is to look at ourselves and acknowledge any jealousy or selfish ambition in our lives that is disordered. It is not always easy to admit faults like these, but they are there and can only be addressed when we take the responsibility of owning up to them. This is best begun by prayer asking the Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds to see those parts of our lives in need of reform. The fruit of this prayer will hopefully be the desire to change and improvement into our lives. From this desire comes the need to pray asking God for the ability to make the changes necessary for us to overcome these tendencies. These changes will have a positive effect on our various communities. If we take time top pray, reflect, plan and act and we could see amazing things happen.
Throughout the Gospels Jesus showed us the way to have a harmonious and grace-filled community. Jesus did so through humility and patience. In the Gospel today Jesus he presents a paradox to them. In order to be first one has to be last and a servant to everyone else. This is what James was echoing in the passage we heard from him. He saw this instruction as Jesus instructing that to be last is to put aside jealously that and selfish ambition. Jesus is particularly focusing his teaching on the attitudes and qualities of leaders.
He gives us a new teaching, a new understanding and a new example of being a leader. The leader is to humbly serve and place all who are served ahead of him. Jesus is the ultimate model of this for he is the Son of God who humbled himself to be born into our world and be like us in all things but sin. Jesus, our Lord, took upon himself the death reserved for a criminal and did this so that by his dying we might have life. The paradox of Jesus’ teaching in this passage is best understood in the paradox of the cross.
The example and teaching of Jesus is a call to humble service. A term that is currently popular in Church teachings is “Servant Leadership.” Those who are called to lead have the call to do so by service. For some of us this means a radical change in how we might view leadership, but it is a change that brings us more in line with the teachings and example of Jesus. How do we do this? It is best to begin with praying for a humble and contrite spirit. From there it is stepping back and humbling ourselves to serve those around us. This ultimately results in a community that is focused on serving and not jealously or ambition.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.