The mother of Zebedee saw Jesus as a good and influential person and clearly wanted her sons to be as close to him as possible. However, she did not understand what his leadership was about. His leadership is about service, about suffering, about a downward mobility that is an emptying of self. It is the exact opposite of her understanding of leadership.
Jesus knows that to do the Father’s will entails a love that is willing to bear the cost. The disciples don’t get it – at least not yet! Most of the time we don’t get it either, but sometimes we do live this call. Sometimes we get it. Often those the Church recognises as blessed or saints are individuals who heroically put others first in one way or another. These are people like Maximilian Kolbe, Oscar Romero and Mother Teresa. Sometimes we are called to drink the cup of suffering. At other times we are called to live with faith and courage in a difficult situation that is ongoing.
Prosperity churches preach that if we follow Jesus (and tithe to them), we will be blessed with wealth. But Jesus says we are not promised wealth or success. Ultimately we will share in the joy of the resurrection, but the living-out of love in the world isn’t always easy. Love is about putting the other first, which often involves suffering. It is about serving and not about being served. It is about sacrifices which may cost us a lot but which bring life to others.
Servant-leadership is the leadership Jesus models for us. What makes me feel more important than others? Is it wealth or education, talents or connections? We too, can easily see these things as making us superior to others, instead of seeing them as gifts to be used in the service of others. We are already important. We belong to God, created in God’s image. We do not need to earn a place in the world in the eyes of others. As Mother Teresa observed. “God did not call me to be successful but to be faithful.”