TWENTY FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
In the Gospel reading of this 25th Sunday in Ordinary times, we read: “Whoever wants to be first must be the last and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35-36). Now, let’s be honest, being last and the servant of all is not the greatness we are groomed to strive for nor is it the greatness we aspire to. Greatness, for most of us, means to be number one, a winner, a success. It’s about power, control, wealth, fame, reputation, status, and position. I can’t imagine anyone encouraging their child to be last or the servant of others. Yet, in this Scriptural passage, Christ tells us that being great, holding the number one position, means being last and being the servant of all, and He went on to exemplify it by taking a little child in his arms and saying to His disciples, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me”. So, greatness, according to Christ, lies in “welcoming a child” which, He says, is equal to welcoming God Himself—the ultimate greatness. So, our question then is, “What does welcoming a child mean?
A child is a symbol of vulnerability, powerlessness, and dependency. In the days of Jesus, a child had no rights, no status, and no economic value. A child is deemed to be a consumer, not a producer. So, what Christ is saying is that greatness lies in welcoming and receiving the “symbolic” children of the world. What a radical shift in concept. Greatness is no longer about me or about my superiority over others. It is no longer about what I have accomplished and gained for myself. Greatness is said to consists in what I have done for and given to “the least of these little ones”—a distributive channel of God’s grace to humanity.
So, when Scripture says, love those who don’t even love you, or do good to those who do not do good to you, or lend to those who cannot repay you back, or invite to supper those who cannot invite you back, or forgive those who neither have asked for your forgiveness nor changed their behavior, it is inviting us to true greatness. We are truly great when we refuse to carry bitterness, jealousy, or envy toward another, when we reject thoughts and actions of hatred and prejudice, when we refuse to participate in jokes about immigrants and minorities, when we work to tear down walls of division, make room for others who are different, vulnerable, and in need, and strife, in our own little way, to alleviate the pains of humanity. Can you imagine how great our world would be if we all worked to be great in this sense—exercising the option for the poor, the downtrodden, the weakest among us, the stranger, the immigrant, the widow, the defenseless, the unborn, and the elderly vulnerable.
This is the greatness that we saw in Mother Teresa of Calcutta. It is the greatness we discover when we step into our better selves. It is the choice that we make when we encounter humanity in need; when we reach out to touch, to comfort, to console, to edify, to nourish, to protect, to provide, to clothe, and to care for that which is created in the image and likeness of God. May God grant us the grace to choose this type of greatness—the “Greatness of the last” and the “Greatness of the servant of all”—in our daily encounters with fellow human beings, Amen!