CHRIST'S STANDARD OF GREATNESS
The Last shall be First
25th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR B
Do you want to be GREAT? Well, could you blame anybody here in this Church for wanting to be great? As it is said: “Mediocrity is the greatest crime to humanity.” And so, in order not to commit this crime, you have to strive for greatness. With greatness comes WEALTH, POWER, and PRESTIGE or HONOR! That’s what the world tells us to say the least. But what truly makes a person great? Is this something that’s subjective, that is, according to one’s perception of things, such as that when he/she thinks that the he/she is great, then he/she is such? Or is this something that’s purely objective based on reliable truths? Is it “reachable” or “attainable?” Can we use something or someone as a measure of greatness? Certainly, there is SOMEONE!
There is one man we know, who has set the standard of greatness. In His time, from the point of view of the teachers of the law, they found him to be unorthodox. What he did and taught were contrary to what the world dictates. But his was a type of “greatness” which brought about TRUE HAPPINESS and SALVATION. This man we know of is Jesus of Nazareth.
Today’s Gospel reechoes Christ’s criteria of “greatness.” Contrary to what His apostles believed, Jesus directed them to its true essence as they were blinded by their own subjective understanding. Looking back at the Gospel, let us explore Jesus’ criteria of “greatness:”
1. First Christian criterion of greatness is HUMBLE SERVICE. For Jesus, to be great is to be willing to accept, lovingly welcome and serve those who are considered unacceptable and undeserving by one’s prejudicial standards as to class, color, religion, culture, etc. In other words, what humble service implies is to be able to see greatness in the least among us. Jesus, in his very life, has undergone rejection even in his own hometown because of his family origin being born from a father who happens to be a carpenter. But, just as His Father chose Him to be born from such humble beginning, He tells us that that is what it entails to be great by serving the least among us.
Some years ago, St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City was seeking a new president. Over one hundred candidates applied for the position. The search committee narrowed the list to five eminently qualified persons. Then somebody came up with a brilliant idea: let’s send a person to the institutions where each of the five finalists is currently employed, and let’s interview the janitor at each place, asking him what he thinks of the man seeking to be president. This was done and a janitor gave such a glowing appraisal of William MacElvaney that he was selected President of St. Paul’s School of Theology. Somebody on that search committee understood, in a flash of genius, that those who live close to Christ become so secure in his love that they no longer relate to other people according to rank or power or money or prestige. They treat janitors and governors with EQUAL DIGNITY. [Come to think of it, wouldn’t this be a good gauge and method to help us discern in electing who’s deserving to be president of our country?]
The message is clear: “To be great is recognize the least among us in humble service.”
2. Second Christian criterion of greatness is “… TO BE LAST.” This could be a little hard to understand. How is somebody who’s last be great? Again, a very unorthodox Christian view of greatness. For Jesus, the true great person is a diakonos where we derive the word diakonia for “deacons” which simply means “service.” Most probably, when Jesus spoke about being “last” he was talking about his way of living and death. He died a very humble death that of a criminal though he did no crime but to follow the will of His Father. Using modern-day lingo, he died a loser. But through His example, He wanted His apostles to substitute their ambition to rule, which is to be FIRST, with the ambition to serve, thus becoming LAST. In that regard, to be great is to be SLAVE of ALL. To be GREAT in the very eyes of God.
Speaking of last, hear this story: A number of years ago, MARY FRANCES “FRANKIE” HOUSLEY was the lone stewardess [a real “steward” in its true essence] on National Airlines flight 83 which crashed after landing at Philadelphia Airport in January, 1951. Frankie Housley had made 10 trips into that burning plane … to help passengers get out. As soon as she had finished getting all of the passengers to safety, Housley also started to jump from the plane. But just before she made her escape, a passenger on the ground screamed, “My baby, my baby!” Flight attendant Housley turned back into the plane to find the baby, and that was the last time anyone saw her alive. She died in the attempt to save the baby, and rescue workers found her charred body holding the four-month-old baby in her arms. The story of her courage made national headlines, including an item in Time magazine. A congressman [a man of power] labeled her the bravest American in history. [In its simplest sense, I would say that Frankie Housley exemplified in her very life what it meant to be last and the “steward” or “servant of all!”
3. Third Christian criterion of greatness is “… TO BE LIKE CHILDREN.” One of the qualities of a child is DEPENDENCE. A child has nothing of his or her own possession. A child will always be dependent on what his or her parents would give. When we are in such a state, we feel vulnerable, we feel helpless. But despite such feelings, we recognize SOMEONE greater than us. Jesus presents Himself for always as the SON of GOD and NEVER a being GREATER than His Father. In the same way as pointed out in our Gospel, Jesus calls us to recognize His Father as our Creator and Jesus as our Savior, as SOMEONE whom we could turn to whenever we feel helpless and vulnerable just like any child. As a child of God, we are called to give honor and respect to the Blessed Trinity – ONE in BEING and EQUAL in authority … equal in GREATNESS.
To be like children Christ calls us to be grounded on Him in the spirit of dependence, which seeks only what is essential to Christian life in charity and love. To be great by acknowledging a being greater than us.
Our subjective understanding of “greatness” could put us to shame if they do not qualify, in any way, to the criteria of greatness that Christ has set upon us today the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time. We could regret those times and moments when we even thought about becoming great if only to follow Christ’s standards of greatness. But aren’t we Christians – followers of Christ? If we do not follow Christ’s way to greatness, then whose standards do we follow? I do believe that one can only be great if one follows the path of truth, the path of Christ … to GREATNESS.
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