What is it you want Me to do for you?

Ervin TanFeature

Archbishop William Goh washing the feet of his flock at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd during the Maundy Thursday Mass in 2019. Photo: VITA Images

What is it you want Me to do for you?

When Jesus asked this question of the disciples, James and John, they told Him they wanted the best seats in the house. Father Adrian Danker, SJ, expounds on the notion of Christian service that Jesus taught and exemplified with the question and His response to their request.

“What is it you want Me to do for you?” Jesus asks James and John when they ask for something personal from the Lord (Mark 10:35-45). I believe He asks this same, perennial question of all who come to Him seeking forgiveness and healing, teaching and direction to live.

Jesus offers to serve

This Gospel tells us that Jesus’ first response is always to listen. Thus, listening to Jesus is also the first step toward living as His disciples. Only then are we able to hear Him offer, “What is it you want Me to do for you?”

When Jesus asks this question, He is, in fact, reversing the usual dynamics of the disciple-teacher relationship. He becomes the one serving, and in particular, He offers His service to us. What a contrast this is to James and John, who demand of the Lord, “Master, we want you to do us a favour.”

We can clearly see that they expected Jesus to do what they asked; they expected to be served. Allegorically, Jesus reveals to us the attitude that we, too, sometimes have towards Him or even towards the other people in our lives.

God’s way to real glory

By asking James and John how He can serve them – and yes, asking us too – Jesus reveals another reversal: glory is not given to those who seek to be first among others. It is instead bestowed on those who choose to serve others by giving their lives for them.

“Jesus reveals another reversal: glory is not given to those who seek to be first among others. It is instead bestowed on those who choose to serve others by giving their lives for them.”

As Jesus’ disciples, we must answer this question honestly: Do we serve others or ourselves? Our answer reveals the quality of our discipleship. We all exercise this human tendency toward self-promotion, and many a time, we do so because we seek glory and happiness. The values of the world fuel self-promotion. They encourage us to crave power, prestige and predominance.

In contrast, throughout His life and ministry, Jesus showed us God’s way to real glory and happiness – by serving others and not seeking places of honour like James and John did. As disciples, we know this message in our heads – to follow Christ means to serve, just as He came to serve, and not to be served.

Although it is a concept familiar to us, our hearts however need to relearn this. If we are completely honest with ourselves, we harbour the same desire James and John have to sit next to the Lord to be up close with Jesus. We want to receive this abundant goodness. But before we can do so, Jesus first asks us if we are ready to drink His cup, be baptised with Him in His Passion, and share in His death. In other words, are we prepared to take up our cross, and begin to live our lives for others?

Self-giving service

If that answer is yes, we begin to carry our cross and serve in the different schools of love He places us in – our families and friendships, the places of learning and working, those spaces where we serve and care. Many will challenge our willingness to serve. When we do, it often costs us a lot, and that is because Christ-like service is indelibly marked with the Cross.

Yet it is in becoming available to others, primarily through self-giving, “we become freer inside, and more like Jesus,” Pope Francis teaches. Further, “the more we serve, the more we are aware of God’s presence” (Pope Francis, Angelus).

Ultimately, if we believe the Church is the continuing presence of Jesus on earth, then it is really Jesus who wants to listen to our thoughts and feelings about the Church today and for tomorrow. He asks us, “What is it you wish Me to do for you – God’s people, God’s Church?”

If we want to sincerely serve with and for the Church, let us then listen to Him first, for He shows us how to truly serve – through self-giving love. Then, we will better understand Jesus’ command to serve, and in following Him, our self-giving also saves others and lets God’s glory shine.


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