August 25, 2013
ORDINARY 21 (C)
Some are last who will be first…. – Luke 13: 30
In a press interview, the conductor of a great symphony orchestra was asked to name the instrument he thought was most difficult to play. After a pause to reflect, he answered, “Second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who can play second fiddle with enthusiasm is often a problem; & if we have no second fiddles, there is no harmony.”
We tend to think of Jesus & Mary & the Apostles, especially Paul, as being strong persons. Still, we hear Jesus saying such things as “The last will be first & the first will be last.” Again, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” The meek here should not be confused with wimps, with rubber mats who let others walk over them, but those who have cast off the self-centeredness & pride that claim independence from God. The meek are those who have made the conscious choice to accept life on God’s terms.
Scripture consistently teaches us that every declaration of independence from God has disastrous consequences. Adam & Eve decided not to play second fiddle to God – the result was the loss of harmony & paradise. And so it goes whenever WE attempt to have life on OUR terms, insisting on doing it our way. Yet blessed are those who, like Mary, can give up trying to live apart from God’s saving grace.
Mary’s words in the Magnificat are a beautiful expression of the meaning Jesus gives to all of history. He, the Almighty, the Holy One, who had everything, made Himself vulnerable to the point of death in the service of those who had nothing. It was in His meekness that Jesus found His strength: “Not my will, but thine be done.” In His submissiveness, Jesus received the power to redeem the world.
When we become genuinely meek, the redemptive power of Christ flows in & through us. We know who we are because we know to whom we belong. We know that we have submitted ourselves to God whose “mercy reaches from age to age.” Having cast off the defensive pride that alienates, we can experience the genuine humility that heals & reconciles. The Scripture scholar & popular author William Barclay wrote of a gentle man named Basil Oliver who lived in London, England:
Basil was 85 years old when he died. You could have described him as the oldest office boy in London. More than 30 years ago, after he lost his wife, he came to stay at the London Central YMCA. Since then he never stayed anywhere else. He made himself useful around the place. He collected letters to be mailed, went for stamps, ran general errands, & did all kinds of odd jobs. It was Basil who went & bought the Sunday newspapers for the others. It was Basil who presided behind the tea & coffee in the lounge. It was Basil who could be seen almost any day – cheerful, smiling, padding about the place in the rubber-soled canvas shoes he almost always wore. One day, Basil took sick. For a week or two his health was clearly failing. Then, on a Sunday afternoon when he did not come down to serve the buffet as usual, he was found unconscious in his room. Basil died the next morning.
It was only then that we began to discover half the things Basil did in the service of others. Now we know that he was always ready to come to the rescue of young people who had travelled to London & needed practical help of one kind or another. Now we know that he did good for years, quietly & gently, without letting his right hand know what he left hand was doing.
Basil was as supremely happy man, a supremely useful man, a supremely kind man. He did not make a parade of his religion, yet we know he never missed a service in his church. All the things he did were the little things, as the world sees them, but little things that mean so much. He was a brilliant example of a man who found both joy for himself & love from others, but doing little things in the place where life had set him.
God is faithful, & because He is faithful, because He will never abandon us, we can afford to become the meek & gentle of the world. We can submit our very lives to Him. We can make our declaration of dependence on Him & trust our future to Him. Basil found that out, & the world was a better place because of him. AMEN!