...he began to ask them,
"What were you arguing about on the way?"
But they remained silent.
For they had been discussing among themselves on the way
who was the greatest.
Saint Mark set the pattern and the Evangelists Luke and Matthew follow it: Jesus' three predictions of his passion and death are followed by three teachings about serving others. If you don't know your mission as a servant to others, preferring the last place even when you're placed in leadership, you've not seen or heard or comprehended the life and death of Jesus.
"But," the child might ask, "if everyone is serving everyone else, won't that leave no one to be served?"
No, we survive as a species only by caring for one another. No one survives without help from other people. Independence and individualism are false myths; human maturity is neither dependence nor independence but dependability. We live in interdependence.
Those who care only for themselves are a burden to everyone; even if they've managed to isolate themselves on a Robinson Crusoe island of self-reliance . Because they refuse to offer the service they owe to others, their contribution must be somehow made up by the rest.
"But what of the sick, the aged and the totally disabled?"
Their grateful spirit more than makes up for their disability. Our caring for others is spiritual, physical, emotional, psychological, financial, educational, religious and personal. (There is no end to this list of adjectives!) Everyone has something to give and an innate capacity for generosity.
I suppose most of us can name a dozen ways in which we help others every day. But I ask myself, "Can I describe the help I receive from others? Do I notice the little assists that follow my movements from room to room throughout the day? If I get too forgetful someone should ask, "Who cleaned up after you before I got here?"
"Oops!" I should say. "Thanks for the reminder!" because I need and deserve an occasional rebuke from my companions on the journey. Left in the solitude of my own sins, isolated by those who regard me as incorrigible, -- too old to change, set in his ways -- I face a hellish doom. If no one cares enough to point out my shortcomings, I must be the most miserable of men.
And I should be equally ready to hear, "Thank you!" and, "You're very kind." There are few things more rude than not accepting a compliment.
Like the Evangelists, Saint Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, also placed a teaching about service after his song of the Crucified Savior:
So then, my beloved, obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present but all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
On the road to Jerusalem Jesus discovered his disciples arguing among themselves about who was the greatest. When he shone the light of his attention on them, "they remained silent" for they were ashamed, like Adam and Eve in the Garden. Like his question, the Lord's coming will be unexpected.
Our best hope? That he finds us serving somebody else; or at least saying to someone, "Thank you!"