My children adopted a common practice of their peers, the calling out of "Shotgun!" as their way to claim the front passenger seat in car rides. I remember the first couple of times it happened I was caught off guard, not sure what was meant.
It quickly became normalized, and just another of the various things that children do in their jockeying for position, vying for the better spot, the right to choose, a little bit of status.
Not so different from what James and John did in Mark's Gospel. They tried to claim "shotgun" with Jesus and get the best seats. It is an aspect of our fallen human nature; we want to be first, we want to be special, we want to be the ones who will say how it is.
'The cup that I drink you will drink'
Jesus gives one of his core teachings at this point. He says: "Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all."
At first listen, it sounds as though Jesus is giving the prescription for how to get to greatness, how to become the one who is first. But maybe there is more to it. Perhaps it is Jesus saying that our desire for greatness will not take us to true greatness; that we must learn a new way. If it is hunger for being the best, being first, that is in our heart, we must be transformed by a life of service to others.
That life of service is not how we get to first position, it is how our hearts are changed so that we move beyond the calling of "shotgun," begin to desire better things, begin to put the needs of our brothers and sisters at the same level as our own needs.
So, rather than a prescription, perhaps it is an antidote: If you are afflicted with thoughts and desires of greatness, this is what you must do to be freed; if the consequences of original sin taint your desire for what is best, this is how you will be restored; if you lack wisdom concerning the ways of God, this is how you will be transformed into the mind of Christ.
The "servant heart" is a good context to consider our celebration of World Mission Sunday. If our intent is to be light for the world, and bring the gift of the good news of God's love to all people, we must start with hearts that desire to serve.
The manner in which we approach the task, not the task itself, is often the message that is "heard" most clearly. While most of us are not directly involved in world missions, each of us bears witness in our own lives and spheres of influence.
If the nature of our interactions with others evidences an attitude of superiority or arrogance, our words of God's love will sound like hypocrisy. We have the perfect model in Jesus, who came to serve and give his life for many.
(Kathleen Giffin firstname.lastname@example.org)