Greetings, SBT Readers!
In less than three hours, The Parliament of the World's Religions will reconvene for the seventh time since 1893. As an attendee and former presenter (1993, 1999, and 2004), I am thrilled to be joining this gathering of religious leaders, even though the event will be held online, without all the color and pageantry of a host country. What lies at the heart of this gathering is the belief that the world's religions are spiritually and ethically mandated to address the core issues facing humanity today, and to work towards sustainable solutions. The Global Ethic of 1993, signed by Hans Kung, the Dalai Lama, Cardinal Bernardin and other luminaries, boldly asserted that "The world is in agony": "We condemn the abuses of the Earth's ecosystems...the poverty that stifles life's potential; the hunger that weakens the human body; the economic disparities that threaten so many families with ruin... the social disarray of the nations; the disregard for justice which pushes citizens to the margin; the anarchy overtaking our communities; and the insane death of children from violence. In particular, we condemn aggression and hatred in the name of religion."
The conditions which The Global Ethic denounced in 1993 have magnified a hundredfold; the good news, however, is that the world's religious leaders continue to hold up that beacon of light radiating from "the common set of core values" to be found in our traditions. It is these values, "known, but yet to be lived in heart and action," that hold the antidote to the world's agony.
May we who teach and preach and write and influence commit ourselves to addressing the world's agony; may we be "servant leaders" who know our own power to bring about change and use it!
Jesus summoned the twelve and said to them,
"You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."
In Mk 10:33-34, Jesus states, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief
priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death anddeliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him andspit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” This third prediction of the Passion, while adding a few more details, more or less repeats what Jesus has already shared with his disciples. Interestingly enough, each prophecy meets with a different reaction. In Mk 8:31-33, Peter "rebukes" Jesus and is rebuked in turn. In Mk 9:31-32, the disciples are confused and don't dare ask Jesus to clarify what he means. And now, James and John's reaction is not to express horror at the gory details of what lies in store for Jesus, but to focus on their own ambition. There is no expression of concern, no attempt to offer comfort, but only a blatant "power grab." Their response to Jesus is nothing short of manipulative: "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." Moreover, while the other ten are outraged by Zebedee's sons' boldness, this is most likely because they themselves have similar aspirations. It seems that all Jesus' teachings about simplicity and the danger of riches have been in vain: all Twelve have become spiritual materialists preoccupied with the glory to come. Of course, one could argue that Jesus' prophecies are so intolerable that the disciples' only possible response is to fantasize about their status in the next world. After all, it now looks as though earthly rewards are out of the question and that there will be no earthly kingdom awaiting them; on the contrary, the Romans will continue to maintain power, while the "Jesus movement" will remain on the fringes or be extinguished altogether.
What is it that keeps our minds small and constricts our hearts? Why do we crave privilege and power or allow ourselves to become paralyzed by fear? How can we move beyond self-preservation into greater awareness, understanding and compassion? Jesus' answer is clear: we must die to the "ego-self" so as to serve our neighbors. This is what the woman with the alabaster jar does in Mk 14:3-9: entering the house of Simon the leper, she breaks open the precious jar, pouring the costly perfumed oil over Jesus' head. This is an act of self-giving, an act of service; there is no expectation of reward and, in fact, the woman has to face the hostility of some of Simon's guests -- no doubt Jesus' own disciples! Jesus' own symbolic gesture of service and self-emptying is to wash his disciples' feet during the Last Supper (Jn 13:1-11). He removes his outer garments-- the same garments that will be stripped from him in a few hours. With a towel around his waist, he bends before his disciples, taking on the posture of a slave. "Do you realize what I have done for you?" he asks (Jn 13:12). "I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do" (Jn 13:15).