Wis 2:12, 17-20 Jam 3:16-4:3 Mk: 9:30-37
Remember potato salad and jokes: Tony Campolo, used to say, “If you ever start to feel proud, thinking that you are somebody great, just remember that soon after your body has been lowered into the grave, your family & friends will be eating potato salad and telling jokes, and you’ll be history.”
Dear friends! Jesus was returning to Capernaum after journeying through the Northern Province of Galilee, avoiding crowds and teaching the apostles. Mark presents Jesus as giving three predictions about his suffering and death, one each in chapters, 8, 9 and 10. The response by Jesus’ disciples was horror and disappointment because they had been dreaming of a political messiah who would usher in an earthly kingdom. Hence, in chapter 8, Peter rebukes Jesus for his words. In chapter 9, (the first part of today’s text), an argument arises among the disciples as to who among them is the greatest. In the third passage (in chapter 10), James and John foolishly ask Jesus to give them seats on his right and left, when he comes to power.
The second part of today’s gospel describes Jesus’ return to Peter’s house in Capernaum, where he gives his apostles a picture of what true greatness is. We place children first and we would do anything to help a child. In Palestine at the time of Jesus it was not so, children were last. Children had no status until they matured. So can you imagine what a shock it was for the disciples arguing about which of them was the greatest when Jesus placed a child before them. And not only that but Jesus said if you want to be first you must be last of all and servant of all (Mark 9:35). The disciples and Jesus had two different ideas of service and how to achieve greatness.
Washington Irving once wrote, “Great minds have purposes, little minds have wishes.” All these men had a wish–a wish for greater status, a wish to stand in Jesus’ spotlight and soak up some applause. Jesus wanted them to look beyond their own selfish wishes to embrace the purposes of God.
Jesus says that people who serve humbly and lovingly are the greatest. The two conditions of true greatness are humility and loving service. This vocation to loving service belongs to the Church as a whole and to every member of the Church. In other words, the Christian vocation is an apostolate of bearing witness to Christ through loving service. Christian history teaches us that whenever the members of Christ’s Church have forgotten or ignored this call to service, the Church has suffered.
There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious. Indeed, it is good to be ambitious, to have goals, to want to be good at what one does and to succeed in it. But ambition can get out of hand. It can cause us to forget everything else in the pursuit of success in business or in a career. Therefore we must be careful what we are sacrificing in the pursuit of our goals. We may be sacrificing family life, justice, kindness, even life itself. Ambition can cause one to treat others in a cruel or unjust way.
Jesus did not abolish ambition. Rather, he redefined it. He did not tell the apostles that they should not seek greatness in his kingdom. He just showed them where true greatness was to be found. It is not to be found in being the masters of others, but rather in being the servants of others, especially the weaker members of the community.
Jesus wants us all to be down on our knees with a basin of water in on hand and a towel in the other, washing the feet of ‘the little ones’. “When he had washed their feet [and] put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.” John 13: 12-17).
Dear friends! I want you to spend this week reflecting what we heard today. What it means to be great in the kingdom of God? What does Jesus wants me to do here and now?