Jesus sat down and summoned the Twelve. “So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all”. Jesus put a child in the middle of the room. Then, cradling the little one in his arms, he said, “Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me – God who sent me”. (Mark 9: 35 – 37)
I was on a retreat once when a group of us were talking about spiritual practices that we find helpful. One guy shyly admitted that he makes a practice of doing something nice for some person every day while making sure no one knows about it – especially the person the good deed was done to.
I asked him why he chose that practice, and he said that one of the biggest temptations in his life was to get the glory for being known as a “good guy”. He loved to get his name listed among the big donors and get a round of applause for being someone who helped a cause in some public way. He realised his alleged good deeds had become an elaborate ego trip. He said, “Now I’m worried that telling you guys about this practice is just my ego taking over again”. We all laughed knowingly.
Saint James warns that the source of all wars and conflicts between people stems from our deep desires. In the readings this week, he sees our dilemma as going deeper than just our sins or errant deeds; it reaches deep into the structure of what we most yearn for, whether it’s praise, power, security, or self-aggrandisement. To change our ways, we need to let God change our desires, just as this guy practiced desiring the good of others over glory for himself.