October 9, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news from Luke 22:24-30.
Then an argument broke out among them about which of them should be regarded as the greatest. He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them and those in authority over them are addressed as ‘Benefactors’; but among you it shall not be so. Rather, let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. For who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one seated at table? I am among you as the one who serves. It is you who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father has conferred one on me, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom; and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
I can’t imagine how frustrated and disappointed Jesus must have been at this moment to overhear the argument among his apostles, his most trusted and loved companions and disciples, arguing about who among them was the greatest, the most favored. He had an incredible capacity to overlook people’s foibles and failings and nearly infinite patience. It is comforting to know that he is the same with me.
It’s interesting that this translation has, “I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father has conferred one on me.” The Sacra Pagina interprets it this way, “And I bestow on you just as my father has bestowed on me, a kingly authority.” A kingdom versus kingly authority. What this says to me is that the kingdom that Jesus always talked about is a way of thinking and a way of being and a way of relating; it is not a place or a thing. So, I think Jesus was saying that it is the relationship with him and with God his Father that he is presenting to them as a gift. In accepting that gift they will be with him always at his banquet table, the altar upon which his body and blood in the eucharist will be shared with them.
My understanding of the kingdom continues to change, expanding from a concrete image to something much more amorphous, undefined. It’s difficult for my mind to think in such formless terms. Similarly, it’s much easier for me to conceive of God as a father, a bodily entity than it is to think of him as a ubiquitous spirit residing in every thing and every person, in every atom in the universe. It’s mind-boggling. Then, Jesus came to boggle the mind, to upset the world, to create a new way of being, to establish a new covenant with God.
Here he is at it again. The greatest will be the youngest, a child. The leader will be a servant. He didn’t just tell them about it, though. He showed them again and again to underscore what he was teaching them. It was contrary to everything they knew and everything they saw in the world around them. It was mind-boggling and there were times they couldn’t grasp it. There were times they lapsed into old habits; times they each wanted to the greatest, the most favored, the closest to Jesus. So it is with me so often, lapsing into old habits and exiting from the kingdom for a while. I’m in good company, though, with the apostles. That’s why it’s comforting to know that Jesus forgives my lapses and treats me with patience.