September 23, 2018
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
WIS 2:12, 17-20 PS 54:3-4, 5, 6 AND 8 JAS 3:16—4:3 MK 9:30-37
I don’t know about you, but it’s always a comfort to know that Jesus’ disciples were normal guys. Take today’s Gospel, for instance. They’re heading to Capernaum, and during the trip, they start arguing among themselves which one is the greatest. Such a guy thing, right? Peter was probably boasting like, dudes, I’m basically second in command here, so I’m the greatest. And James and John were all like, no, he likes us best. Maaaaybe we’re tied, but you’re definitely not the greatest. And Andrew chimed in with, Pete, if it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t have even met Jesus, so check your privilege. And the others made their claims to greatness, too, I bet.
So when they reach town, Jesus asks, “What were y’all talking about?”, and of course they’re too embarrassed to admit they were arguing over something ridiculous. Jesus knew, so he tells them – guys, whoever wants to be first, needs to be last and the servant to all.
Which probably made them scratch their heads and wonder, how can being the least of all, make someone the greatest?
Christianity is a field of paradoxes, and this is one of them. “If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” It’s the opposite of what the world tells us. The world says: “Be number one!! Be the greatest!!” The world sells us the lie, that the most important thing is to have the latest gizmo, to posses the best life has to offer, to live in luxury, to drive the fanciest cars. The world endlessly screams at us: “Look out for #1!”
And look at what that has wrought within our families, communities, and the world. St James wrote in his letter: “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.” He goes on to say: “You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
James obviously took Jesus’ words to heart that day in Capernaum, and we must too, if we wish to be “peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity.” The world, being in the grip of Satan, has it backwards. It looks at the results of Jesus’ teachings and calls it weakness, and scorns it. Yet within its soul, the world knows that Jesus speaks the truth – His teaching convicts the world, which leads the wicked to say: “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions….”
Here’s the thing about striving to become “the greatest” – everyone ends up being equally dead, and all will one day stand before The Great Judge. He won’t care about how great we think we were in life, and even less at how the world thought considered us, except in one respect: were we great in love? Love for God and love for neighbor.
If one’s greatness lies purely in love for self, then they truly will be last. And lost.