Follow the Play to Serve

When I played basketball in high school, we practiced every day that we didn’t have a game. Each time, we practiced the plays that we had, so we could use them together as a team in the game. Well, one day while practicing, one of the players decided to launch up a three-pointer that was a thing of beauty. First of all, the three-pointer was a new thing in high school in Massachusetts in those days. Second, the form of the jump shot was like a work of art – the perfect form. Poetry in motion. And third, the shot hit nothing but net. That means it went right through the hoop without even touching the rim. It was a perfect shot.

As the coach stopped the practice, all us players were paused in admiration at this amazing shot from outside the 3-point line. The coach turned to the player and said, “That was a great shot!

But that’s not the play!”

I think the kid must have been following his impulses in the moment. It probably felt great for him. But, in the end, it wasn’t good for the team. Why? Because the team can do the great things a team can do when it works with the play that the coach puts in.

That’s the difference between someone who comes to be served, and someone who comes to serve. Someone who does their own thing to satisfy their needs, and someone who serves the team by following the play.

Back in those years I went to a basketball camp up in Maine. Boston kids like me go up there thinking they’re all that and a bag of chips. And then they see the Maine kids play, and their outlook changes a bit.

One school had their whole team their with their coach. The coach called out the 5 best defenders in the entire camp. Some of these guys were All-Scholastic caliber from Boston. But they never played together before. Then, the Maine coach got his team out on the court, and directed them to start their play. He said, “Make 10 passes, then a layup.” What!? Who can do that? So, they started: the ball got passed left, right, center, all over, with players running here and there. Not much dribbling at all, just back and forth, back and forth. And then, unbelievable, after the tenth pass, a player had an easy layup for a basket. My jaw dropped.

That was the power of a team with a play.

When James and John ask Jesus to be on his left and right, that’s a fantastic shot. What a great image, to have the two most faithful “servants” at his side when it’s all said and done. And Jesus tells them that, although that sounds really wonderful and they’ve taken a great shot, it’s not for him to decided. It’s up to the Father. That’s not the play.

Jesus is always following the Father’s play. He doesn’t give in to impulses that make him feel good and admired. He’s not looking for validation and pleasure for himself. Because he knows that the play makes a team, and a team can do great things for everyone involved.

Because he’s a servant.

Prayer and scripture and good spiritual guidance, these things give us access to the keys to serving. Because they open us up to listening to God and discovering and following His play. They help us get beyond ourselves, beyond our impulses to do something great ourselves. To go from looking to be served, to serving.

Then, everyone can do great things.

“to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared… whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:40,44-45)

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