By looking at my sermon title this morning, you may wonder what gapjil is. We need to learn two Korean words: gap and eul. It is a general term used to indicate the order of priority. Its formal usage is in the legal arena. For example, in Korean legal documents, Gap is a term describing the first party in order and Eul as the subsequent group. Its usage spilled over to the business sector. Now as a part of Korean business culture, Gap is synonym for a person or a company hiring or giving the work to the other party. Also, it finds its way into everyday language in Korean society. Even gender is viewed this way. In a male dominated Korean culture, people used to say, ‘Gap Nam Eul Yhue,’ which means ‘Male (Nam) is gap and female (Yhue) is eul. By the way, my friends, this is not true anymore in modern Korea where “Me Too” movement is very strong as well. In short, “Bigger and powerful” would be Gap; “smaller and powerless” would be Eul.
Now, let me tell you a story that happened at JFK a few years ago. This story is known as the nut rage incident or nut-gate among South Koreans. The Korean Air vice president Heather Cho, who is a daughter of the Korean Air owner, dissatisfied with the way a flight attendant served nuts on the plane, ordered the aircraft to return to the gate before takeoff.
First-class passengers, including Cho, were given Macadamia nuts bagged in their original packaging (By the way, this is in conformity with the airline’s procedures), while Cho had expected them to be served on a plate in the first class. Cho questioned the cabin crew chief about the standard procedure of serving the nuts. After a heated confrontation during which Cho assaulted him, Cho fired him on the spot and ordered him off the plane, requiring a return to the gate. Can you believe this?
The Korean Air tried to cover up this story, but when the incident became public, Cho and Korean Air were heavily criticized, and since then, Koreans began to use a word, gapjil which is a neologism made by combining the word gap (갑; 甲) – which is used to introduce the first party in a contract (as I said earlier), but also refers to a party’s superior status – and jil (질), a suffix that negatively refers to particular actions. It is a phenomenon associated with the hierarchical nature of Korean society and work culture – a structure which results in the social superiority of those with higher position and power.
So, in Korea, generally speaking, bosses are gap and subordinates are eul, men are gap and women are eul, and large companies, like Samsung or Hyundai, are gap while their subcontractors are eul. The nut-gate is a typical example of gapjil.
A survey showed almost nine out of 10 Korean workers have experienced or have been victims of gapjil. Among these victims, 43 percent did not make issue with unfair treatments because “it won’t make differences anyway” (66.7 percent), “didn’t want to make a whole thing out of it” (64.9 percent) and “afraid of disadvantages” (56.7 percent). Well, I have to admit that this abuse of power, gapjil, is a big problem in Korean society. Is it just for Koreans?
This is certainly not only a Korean phenomenon but evident throughout the world. This abuse of power often comes with a prominent position in business or in any organization or group where some believe themselves superior to the others.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus faced a request where James and John wanted to have the best seats in the Kingdom of God. They wanted to be right up there beside Jesus in number one position. They were in a way seeking titles and power. Jesus answers that what is really important is how well you serve God and the needs of humanity, even though it might be costly. It is not status, titles and power that count but it is service that counts.
Sometimes we think that the really important people are those who rise to the ranks of CEOs, Directors and General Managers in their companies with authority and power to lord it over others and get the others to do the work, while they take the glory. Jesus message is very clear: In the kingdom of God it is actually the opposite. The servants, the ones willing to take the number two positions and get the work done, to love and to care for others – they are the greatest in the kingdom of God.
Jesus recognized the dangers in the overwhelming desire for recognition and power. Underlying much of the drive for power and status is really a desire to feel good about ourselves at the expense of others. Jesus knew that the only way that his work could be done in the world was by a loving, serving and caring community.
In church history, sometimes, the Church has not been able to be a good witness of the Love of God when concentrating on power and status. The greatest problems we have had in the church have been power problems. The greatest hindrance to the church’s work has been people in power positions whose main desire is to control not serve. No wonder Jesus called his disciples together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant…” (Mark 10:42-44).
We need to recognize the importance of our servanthood and that in the work of Christ, the greatest need we have and the greatest strength we have is the care and love of one another.
The greatest testimony that we can have is that we – through the Grace of God – have served humanity like Christ, that we have given our lives like Christ, that we have loved as Christ. Do we live for that testimony or do we live for status, and titles, and the exercise of power as control over others?
There is a quotation from Mother Teresa that is significant here:
At the end of life we will not be judged by
how many diplomas we have received
how much money we have made
how many great things we have done.
We will be judged by “I was hungry and you gave me to eat. I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless and you took me in.”
Hungry not only for bread – but hungry for love
Naked not only for clothing – but naked of human respect and dignity
Homeless not only for want of a room of bricks – but homeless because of rejection. This is Christ in distressing surprise.
Tony Campolo, a Baptist preacher and sociologist has a wonderful story about the pastor in his home church. He said every year they would have a home-coming service for all those young people that had gone off to colleges, universities, and those who were working at some job in other places. They would be all invited back and this old pastor would have them in front of him for the sermon. One sermon Tony particularly remembers.
The pastor began by saying to these young people in that style that the black southern preachers are noted for, “Children, you are all going to die, sometime, may be not right away, maybe a long time from now, but one of these days everyone will gather for a service in the church, then they will go to the grave side and bury you, and then they will all come back to the church hall and they will have coffee, and tea, and refreshments of all kinds and they will all sit around and eat potato salad. “Now, Children, when you were born, you alone were crying, and everyone else was happy. When you die, will you alone be happy, when everyone else is crying? The answer depends on whether you have lived to get titles or whether you have lived for the testimony.
Then he went into a poetic rhetoric that is really special. He went through the Bible talking about people who had the titles, contrasted to those who had the testimonies. He rhythmically preached his sermon, each line stronger than the one before:
Pharaoh may have had the title, but Moses had the testimony! Nebuchadnezzar may have had the title, but Daniel had the testimony! Queen Jezebel may have had the title, but Elijah had the testimony! He went on and on citing on one hand biblical characters who had the prestige of titles and status and power, and on the other the people of God whose lives were a testimony of loving service to their Lord. He said, “Herod may have had the title but John the Baptist had the testimony!”
The people after every refrain would shout Amen or Praise the Lord. He got to the climax of his message shouting…, MY CHILDREN, PILATE MAY HAVE HAD THE TITLE! And there was a long pause… BUT I AM HERE TO STAND BEFORE YOU AND SAY MY JESUS HAD THE TESTIMONY.
The question before us is this: Are we living for the titles, or are we living for the testimony? The disciples wanted greatness but Jesus invited them to pursue a road that led to serving others instead of serving themselves. It was the “servant” who would aspire to greatness, not those who wanted positions of power and prestige. And the servant is one who empowers others. The servant is one who works behind the scenes rather than be in the limelight. A servant’s greatest resource is not their ability to produce but their desire to love others.
Instead of saying, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you,” we still have time to say, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” A number of cups are laid out before us – wealth, power over others, prestige, bitterness, resentment, or the cup that Jesus drank from. The choice is yours and Jesus is simply asking you and me today: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?”
Let the church say: Amen.