My late Dad was one of those who lived a life of humility. He didn’t brag around about himself, he was one who moved around work quietly. His day was always about service to others. He was a town councilor for several terms, a leader in Church organizations, a teacher and school administrator, but hardly can you feel any air of arrogance in how he worked with others. He never talks to us about what he did; all his life was about listening to his children’s stories and achievements. In fact, we didn’t know what he achieved for our town until the day he was honored during the necrological services.
In today’s Gospel (Mk. 9: 30-37), Jesus and His disciples were coming from Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them,
“What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who is the greatest.
When asked who is the greatest among them, Peter will probably be the expected answer, considering him as the spokesman of the group.
Then Jesus sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child in their midst, and putting his arms around it and said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me; and whoever receives me receives not me but the One who sent me.”
What is it about a child that Jesus used to illustrate an important point? The answer to this question must be taken from between one who is like a child and one who holds a certain worldly view of greatness. A child is one who is powerless, is not being listened to as much, is simple, ordinary and is innocent. Our Lord re-defines the meaning of greatness, showing different criteria from what the world is familiar with.
In the First Reading, the greatest is one who differentiates himself from the wicked and reproaches them for their “transgressions of the law”. He is brave and fearless, that’s why evildoers try to destroy him but God protects him (Wis. 2: 12, 17-20). In the Second Reading (Jas. 3:16 – 4:3), St. James describes the greatest as “pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.” His personal mastery enables him to go beyond passion, greed and envy.
The world looks at greatness as one who is strong, powerful, moneyed, successful, politically-connected, well-respected, etc. Yet Jesus looks at greatness as one who serves the community, does not compromise with evil, and does not look highly of himself. The humble person knows the innate goodness and likeness of God in each person he meets. He knows that when confronted with a choice, he chooses to follow Jesus than the ways of the world; he comes not to be served, but shall be “the last of all and the servant of all”.
As we reflect on this Sunday’s Gospel, let us pray that we embrace wholeheartedly and in deep humility our place as His beloved child. Doing that is when He does extraordinary things through us, despite how ordinary we are. All we have to do is love Him and let Him in. Also, loving Jesus enables us to match our thoughts with action by our readiness and willingness to reach out to the last, the lost and the least amongst us. Doing this is what will make us truly great in the eyes of God.
‘Behold, God is my helper; the Lord sustains my life. Freely will I offer you sacrifice; I will praise your name, O LORD, for its goodness.’ (Ps. 54: 8)