Many times we’ve heard this arrogant boxer’s claim to being the greatest of all time, after coming up topping his own list of the five greatest boxers, insulting and offending boxing and media organizations, and even those who most consider the greatest. The reaction among most of the people is the same: this is arrogance and this kind of behavior ought to be rejected. It’s hard to understand this kind of attitude, especially when one tells the world that he “is the greatest”. We’re not just used to it (the kind of verbal declaration) that we say it just isn’t normal anymore. What is used to hype before a boxing match stays there — and not after when the game is already over.
In the Gospel, our Lord continues the discussion of His Passion, teaching the Apostles about being handed over to men and killed, and three days after his death, he will rise (see Mk. 9: 30-31). They didn’t understand what Jesus was saying and were afraid to question him about it. When they reached Capernaum, Jesus asked them what they were talking about, but they remained silent. Along the way they were actually talking about who is the greatest.
“Then he sat down, called the Twelve to him 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, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it he 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.” (Mk. 9: 35-37).
Jesus had a lot of formation to do with His disciples, and so he has to do it away from the crowds. The interest and the intensity of the crowds around Jesus must have taught the disciples a misconception. All the while they were exposed to earthly rulers who lorded over them, so the concept of servant leadership must be too difficult to grasp. True greatness is not about power and authority, but about humility and powerlessness. It is about meekness and gentleness, something that Jesus illustrated with a little child. This was a radical concept that all the more confused the disciples. Thus, this was something that our Lord patiently taught them. He knew it’ll come in handy when trials and challenges come their way. They’ll be stronger when they will witness the coming fate of the Messiah. They will be strengthened in their own earthly missions that saving others will require giving up one’s own interest, and eventually their own lives as well.
This message is timeless in that this is also addressed to the present and future followers of Christ. That is why, Jesus left us a treasury of instructions and rituals to increase and nurture our love and devotion. In our midst, we have the blessing of witnessing the greatest expression of God’s love every time we hear the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist at the Holy Mass. St. Paul exhorted us to imitate Christ,
“Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2: 6-11)
To be a leader in the Lord’s ministry is a difficult task indeed. To be truly a ‘servant of all’, we must also learn to empower and trust other leaders and people under our care. We must learn how to enhance their God-given talents, encourage creative ideas, and provide for their needs so they can do their roles effectively and efficiently. Being a ‘servant leader’ does not mean doing the jobs of others else we lose the opportunity to nurture their development. Leaders must find sustainable ways to develop others in their care, including spiritual growth. We are all servants in this respect.
At Mass today, the Spirit reminded me that as Champions we always have to remember that, ‘humble service is the only badge of greatness in the Kingdom of God.’