Saturday, September 18, 2021

Who is the greatest? -


The following comments about greatness are based on the readings for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (B) especially James 3:16-4:3 and Mark 9:30-37.

Who is the greatest? Some, like Mohammad Ali, claimed they were. Others, like John Paul II, have that title, John Paul the Great, bestowed on them by their successor.

But for Jesus, as we heard in the gospel, he never described greatness based on one’s athletic ability or by their accomplishments, but rather – as Jesus explains to the disciples true greatness is found when one approaches life as a servant, when one seeks to be last and when we can come to him with the innocence of a child.

So, then, is it correct to say, we achieve greatness if we chose to sit in the last pew in Church, or to give up our place in line at the supermarket so another can go ahead of us, or we act more like a child. While all this is admirable, it does not meet the standard of greatness that Jesus invites us to seek.

A classic example of what I mean occurred when my family and I had a private audience with Pope John Paul II in 1984. Okay, well there was another 500,000 people with us at Downsview Park in Toronto. But, for a few seconds we had a private meeting. You see – and if you happen to have been there – you might recall the crowds were roped off in sections, with pathways to allow for movement of people, but also for John Paul II’s 'Pope Mobile' to enter for Mass and later to interact with the crowd.

As he was approaching our section the 500 or so people roped in with my family and I anticipated he was going to pass on our right, and so as he came near everyone rushed over to the right, pushing and shoving their way to get close to him. Sadly, my family and I were left standing alone, behind the crowd. Fearing my children would get hurt, we remained still. We were now truly in last place, wondering whether we would ever see the pope up close as he passed by. Then suddenly the Pope Mobile turned to the left side of the aisle, coming right up beside us. We were so close we could touch the pope. In our case the last had become the first. Just as we were standing in awe of being with the pope, we were suddenly swamped with people rushing over to us.

Now neither my family nor I earned the title of greatness from this incident, but the experience graphically illustrated what St. James spoke about in the second reading, when he warned how selfish ambition, in this case competing for first place, will only lead to disorder of every kind. Whereas the peaceable and gentle, benefit.

It is interesting on that September day 37 years ago, John Paul II’s homily was about Mary who saw herself as she said to the angel, “Here I am the servant the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.”

Mary, the mother of Jesus, understood servanthood as doing God’s will. It has little to do with giving up our place in line, or the idea of becoming servant is about surrendering control, or even our right to lead, it is about doing the will of God.

When Jesus corrects his disciples, he is seeking to correct this misunderstanding.  He wants them to know that true greatness begins with humility. It has little to do with what we have accomplished. It has more to do with our willingness to acknowledge that we are not perfect. And if we can do that, then we are open to God’s mercy and love that will empower us to love one’s neighbour. We will be open to God’s grace and not our pride. 

Again, a number of years later, John Paul II preaching on this very same gospel spoke about Mother Teresa as an example of greatness. He drew on the words that Mother Teresa wrote 24 years ago this month, not long before she died. In these words Mother Teresa explained how we can become the greatest. She wrote:  

People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough.

Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God.

It was never between you and them anyway.”

 Are you up for this challenge?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your Comments

Taking time for silence

 One of the most powerful prayer practices we can do is silence.  Have you ever considered why well led liturgy has moments of intended sile...

Popular Posts