it shall not be so among you

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:25

Tomorrow, the symposium on priesthood opens at the Vatican. A speaker at the symposium, theologian Michelina Tenace, told the press: “One way to verify the call to the priesthood must be to never aspire to any power.” Every priest should have these words painted over their beds, I said to James.

Oh wait they do, I realized. It’s a crucifix. And yet…

And yet somehow they—and we—are unable to see in the broken body of God, the most pure communication offered by the Word, his message regarding earthly forms of power: it shall not be so among you.

Lay down your life in order to keep it. It’s there, clear as day, not in a piece of text that needs translating, but in the perfectly comprehensible image of a man being crushed by the world. But this is so contrary to the wisdom of the world, the wisdom we are formed in. We cannot imagine taking the form of a slave.

Perhaps, as Crawford and I discussed, this is because we live in a world that enslaves and oppresses and abuses. And to suffer abuse is not the same thing to lay down one’s life. The weight of oppression is not quite the same as the weight of self-cross. What does a violent society know of self-gift?

As the priest (the rather awkward one who nonetheless gives humorously self-deprecating homilies) said in Mass, anger can take you only so far. The image of Christ casting out the moneychangers in the temple is a powerful image, but that is not the one we hang around our necks, above our altars, or in our homes.

Instead, we hang the image of a broken man, a man who was reviled and rejected. Because it is a reminder that the call to follow him is not a call to power, but a call to love and to serve. To offer self-gift to a violent world.

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