“What were you arguing about on the way?”
But [the disciples] remained silent.
They had been discussing among themselves on the way
who was the greatest.
Then [Jesus] sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them,
“If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” [Mk 9: 33-35]
Yesterday’s gospel reading serves as our reminder that humility is the key to living out our faith. During Lent, we are reminded to fast and pray without announcing it, and this week’s gospel is our reminder to continue to live with tremendous humility. We don’t need to announce the good things that we are doing…God knows. God knows, and that is enough. When we do good things, it is not about seeking validation or reward for those things, but rather we do good things and live with humility because we are loved by God and want to share that love with others.
This challenge to practice humility is simple, yet not easy. Simple in the fact that “those who wish to be first shall be last.” Not only will we be last, but we will be the “servant of all” if we desire to be first or the greatest. The disciples were arguing about who was the best, and were quickly reminded by Jesus that being first or the greatest is not the goal; Living authentically and walking humbly with our God is the goal. Our reward is not here on Earth.
I am challenged by today’s readings as I think about my work with alternative break trips. As the director of the alternative breaks program at our university, it is my responsibility to not only facilitate meaningful immersion programs for the benefit of the students, but also that the program is mutually beneficial to our community partners. We invite students to participate so that they will learn more about social justice issues directly from the communities that we visit. We clarify that these trips are not because we are going to “save” people or do life-changing service for those we are with.
There is a huge shift that happens when you stop doing service for yourself (i.e., it looks good or feels good) and when you start doing service for others (i.e., to learn from those we serve and to effectively respond to the needs of the community). What if the goal was not ego or validation, but rather kinship, community, and relationships? We don’t have immersions so that students can post on social media about the great work they are doing, but rather we plan alternative breaks so that students can deepen their own understanding of important social justice issues and broaden their idea of what community is. All that to say—our call in justice work is to be other-centered, not self-centered—ensuring that the needs of the community are prioritized above our own desires to serve.
The goal of justice work is not about “who did it,” but rather what was done for the benefit of others. When faced with injustice, sometimes we are more worried about “looking” like we are responding first, instead of taking the time to do research and make sure that we are helping the situation. Sometimes our role is to move out of the way and make space for others, which goes against all our desires to be standing there front and center. But we must continue to fight. We must continue to fight humbly beside those who are marginalized, because only then are we truly walking humbly with our God.
Alyssa Perez, a former Jesuit Volunteer in Belize City, is currently working at Loyola Marymount University in the Center for Service and Action as the assistant director of alternative breaks and advocacy. She completed the masters of nonprofit administration program at the University of San Francisco. Having been Jesuit educated for the past 12 years, she is deeply committed to Ignatian spirituality and being a leader with and for others.