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Mark’s Gospel tells us, “Then [Jesus] came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked [the disciples], ‘What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?’ But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest.”
Luke 9:46: “Then a dispute arose among them as to which of them would be greatest.” Luke 22:22, just prior to our Gospel reading today: “Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest.”
Then there’s that little episode in Matthew’s Gospel: “Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. And He said to her, ‘What do you wish?’ She said to Him, ‘Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.’”
Is it just me, or do the disciples seemed to be a bit obsessed with having power? The French philosopher Simone Weil wrote, ”The appetite for power, even for universal power, is only insane when there is no possibility of indulging it; a man who sees the possibility opening before him and does not try to grasp it, even at the risk of destroying himself and his country, is either a saint or a mediocrity.” The disciples were not mediocre, and based on this definition, they weren’t saints either. Like the kings of the gentiles that Jesus spoke of in our Gospel reading or anyone else for that matter, given half the opportunity and the means to do it, many will seek to hold power, whether for good or evil, so that they can hold reign over others.
In looking at this issue of power, I came across a recent study completed by three major universities, which states an even deeper root behind certain individuals desire for power. Not only do they want to rule over others, but they want autonomy. They want no one to rule over them. The authors of the study write: “Power as influence is expressed in having control over others, which could involve responsibility for others. In contrast, power as autonomy is a form of power that allows one person to ignore and resist the influence of others and thus to shape one’s own destiny.” When individuals seek power, yes, perhaps they are seeking to rule over others, but in many cases, they desire that no one rule over them.
Not only did Jesus tell his disciples that they should not be the ones desiring to rule over others, he also told them that they should be the servants of all, not seeking their own will, but the will of the Father: “Thy kingdom come… thy will be done.”
That may sound strenuous, even unfair to some, but it is exactly what Christ did: “Not my will but yours.” As the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” That is our goal as well, and, as it is the Feast of St. Bartholomew, it seems to have been his goal as well, for after witnessing the death and resurrection of Jesus, Bartholomew also gave up his live, being first skinned alive and then beheaded, to fulfill the will of the Father. The prayer of St. Theodore the Studite attests to this sacrifice and obedient submission of this Apostle, so I’ll close with it today.
Let us pray: Hail, O blessed of the blessed, thrice-blessed Bartholomew! You are the splendor of Divine light, the fisherman of holy Church, expert catcher of fish which are endowed with reason, sweet fruit of the blooming palm tree! You wound the devil who wounds the world by his crimes! May you rejoice, O sun illumining the whole earth, mouth of God, tongue of fire that speaks wisdom, fountain ever flowing with health! You have sanctified the sea by your passage over it; you have purpled the earth with your blood; you have mounted to heaven, where you shine in the midst of the heavenly host, resplendent in the splendor of undimmable glory! Rejoice in the enjoyment of inexhaustible happiness! Amen.