Jesus Redefined Ambition

There is nothing wrong with being ambitious, to have goals, to be good at what one does and to succeed in it.  But ambition can get out of hand and can cause one to forget everything else in the pursuit of success.

In today’s Gospel account we see the apostles fighting over who would be first in Jesus’ kingdom.  The scene is far from edifying as they are driven by selfishness and false ambition, which shows how little they had learned from the Master.  It shows how poor was their understanding of the mission, and so Jesus called then together and gave them a talk on the meaning of true greatness.

Jesus did not abolish ambition but redefined it.  For the ambition to rule others he substituted the ambition to serve others.  For the ambition to have others do things for us he substituted the ambition to do things for others.  So, it is not ambition itself that is being condemned, but false ambition.

False ambition is very damaging to the unity of the community.  It springs from jealousy, selfishness and self-centeredness.  All of this can lead to inappropriate and even ugly behavior.  So much of the violence and evil in our society results from greed and selfishness.  Self-interest and personal agendas create conflicts and often results in painful divisions.

There is a good form of ambition which disciples of Christ should not shy away from but embrace.  Jesus did not tell the apostles that they should not seek greatness in his kingdom but showed them where true greatness was to be found.   True greatness is not found in being the masters of others, but rather in being the servants of others, especially the weaker and more vulnerable members of the community.

We know that it is much easier to serve those of prestige because we feel honored through our association with them, and there is a better chance of receiving rewards.  But the real test is serving the least, from whom we cannot expect any rewards.  Jesus says, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.”  “Receiving” means loving service, and “child” stands for the weakest members of the community, those who are most in need.  Serving the least is the ultimate form of what it means to serve. 

Jesus set the example himself.  Though he had authority from God, he never used that authority to dominate others.  Instead, he used it to serve others, and those he served were the poor, the sick, the lonely, the outcasts, and sinners.

The really great people, those who are fondly remembered, are not those who sought to further themselves and their own interests, but those who devoted themselves to furthering the interests of the community.  We have an abundance of examples to inspire us, among them being such “greats” as Francis of Assisi, Vincent de Paul, Francis Xavier Cabrini and Teresa of Calcutta.

When one serves, it implies that one is not there for oneself but for others.  In order to serve as Christ did, one has to be self-effacing.  A servant has to get used to being taken for granted.

— Fr. Dennis, September 23, 2018