Mark 9: 30–37
While journeying through Galilee, Jesus teaches his disciples and tells them that he is to be handed over to those who will kill him, and after three days he will rise. The disciples do not understand what he is talking about. When they come to Capernaum, Jesus asks them what they were arguing about on the way. They remain silent because they were discussing among themselves who was the greatest. Jesus calls the Twelve together and says to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Then Jesus takes a child and putting his arms around it says, “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.”
The second reading of Mass from the Letter of James describes an unredeemed situation of the time when James wrote his letter and of our own time: “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder … You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war.” (James 3: 16, 4: 2) This would also serve as a description of the situation that Jesus addresses in today’s gospel passage. Humanity continues on a journey with the Lord; and we are still arguing and fighting among ourselves about which one of us is the greatest.
Our culture’s understanding of greatness comes down to amassing enough wealth and power to do whatever you want. Jesus, on the other hand, reveals that human greatness has to do with living the truth of our relationship with God and with each other regardless of how much wealth or power we may possess.
The secret of understanding the greatness of Jesus and thereby the meaning of human greatness is to understand the relationship of Jesus with God. He reveals what it means to live and to die as God’s beloved Son (Mark 1: 11). In other words, Jesus shows us the implications of being created in the image and likeness of God as beloved son or beloved daughter. Believing in his human soul that his relationship with God was his ultimate truth, Jesus trusted that God’s will for him amidst the trials he endured could only be love.
Jesus once said to his disciples, “Amen, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it shall be done for him” (Mark 11: 23). Through total trust, a finite human being comes into harmony with the infinite God who has the power to create mountains. It is in that trust that Jesus could pray in the face of imminent death, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will” (Mark 14: 36). He trusted that his loving Father, who has power to create life, would prevail over the power of death.
Jesus also reveals that our relationship with God is inseparable from our relationship with each other. To give oneself to God as Jesus did means to be in complete harmony with God’s creative love for every human being and for all creation. Mark tells us that the disciples were discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Jesus, who as God’s servant would soon give up his life for us, said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
The creative service of love unites God, Jesus in his humanity, and every human being in the most intimate communion of life. Jesus says, “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.” Only by following in the way of Jesus will we be on the path to greatness according to God’s wisdom, and thereby ourselves often be prompted to deeds of sacrifice and love.
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.