For the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time the Gospel and the second reading carry the main message. Luke’s version, properly translated, holds the key to the passage. “Who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one seated at table? I am among you as the one who serves.”
That last question seems out of context with the conclusion and there is a reason. It implies the one sitting at table, the ruler, is the greater.
Koine Greek has no punctuation or word order to its grammar. The passage could just as well translate, “Who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? It is not the one seated at table! I am among you as the one who serves.”
Chapter 1 verse 10 of the Ethics of the Fathers says, “Love work, loath mastery over others, and avoid intimacy with the government.” This comes from the cultural background from which Jesus lived and taught. A saying from this culture is, “Whosoever acquires a Jewish slave has acquired himself a master.”
James and John the sons of Zebedee ask, “Grant to us to sit, one on your right hand, and one on your left, in your glory/Chabod/importance.” The important one, the one with glory and honor is not the one sitting at table. Rulers throughout history found this out the hard way. Mary Antoinette and King Louis lost their heads over it as did Maximilien Robespierre when his grew too big.
King George was right in the taxes he raised on the colonies. Someone had to pay for the French and Indian War. Up until the time of the Revolution the British were known for their hands-off approach to the colonies who largely governed themselves. King George saw himself as the important one. When a bunch of drunks threw tea into the sea, King George thought he had enough. He called the venerated Benjamin Franklin, at that point an advocate of the King and told him off, in public. Ben Franklin became an advocate of the Revolution.
The British saw the white man as God’s gift to humanity, the important race. Born in Liverpool, Robert Morris a Founding Father of the United States financed the American Revolution, oversaw the striking of the first coins of the United States, and signed the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, and the United States Constitution. During the war the combined expenditures of Robert Morris towards the American Revolution and subsequent events would be in excess of $15,575,000,000 today not including materials and ships and the balance of the colonist would contribute $800,000. Along with Alexander Hamilton and Albert Gallatin, he is one of the founders of the American financial system. Did we notice how Morris was from Liverpool. He was Irish, not British. The Revolution was as much about Irish rights denied by the British as it was about taxes.
Morris was an honorary member of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick as was George Washington. This organization had five Revolutionary War generals as members and a commodore who was also an employee of Robert Morris. His head grew too big and he died in poverty, his house being used to plan the Crossing of the Delaware, and the Battle of Trenton.
Thinking you are the master race or the master nation has negative consequences. The British ended slavery in 1833 without an American Revolution. If the U.S. had not left the British empire, slavery here would have ended in 1833. The Native Americans sided with the British in the Revolution. The British promised a limit on westward expansion. If the American Revolution had not happened, Native American Nations might be prospering and not living on reservations. The U.S. with all its economic power would have entered WWI and WWII when Britain did. Think of the lives lost because King George was so full of himself.
This brings us to the first reading, “The NAME was pleased to crush him in infirmity. If he gives his life as an offering for deviation, he shall see his descendants in a long life, and the will of the NAME shall be accomplished through him. Because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days; through his suffering, my servant shall justify any, and their guilt he shall bear.”
Those who have not suffered do not know what it means to suffer. That is why God crushes in infirmity. It is through infirmity that we see the light. The Jewish community has its Baal of Teshuva, or Master of Penance. This person, because he suffered for his faults is said to be master even over the angels. He is greater than the angels and all others he meets. Why? Because he knows what it means to err and how easy it is to err. He is meek and humble, always contrite, watching his step to make sure he does not err again.
What of those of us who have never really suffered. In our Mass’s Anamnesis we die with Jesus and we rise with him. We sit at Gethsemane and walk with him, denying him three times, recalling how easy it is to do. “I knew the great teacher, not this guy who made claims about destroying the temple, for God’s sake.” Through the Anamnesis we become Baal Teshuva liturgically, if we pay attention to Gospel and readings.
Let us therefore always remember who is the greater, “It is not the one seated at table.” It is the one who serves. Who is important, Mary Antoinette and King Louis, easily replaced by Maximilien Robespierre who was easily replaced by Napoleon, who was in turn easily replaced by others, or the people planting the potatoes for the Irish to eat or the wheat for the French of the Revolution to eat, sparing Europe the 19th and 20th century of constant war. Without the meek and humble worker, nobody eats. That is what Jesus tells us today.