Seeking Greatness In God's Kingdom
"Everyone has the power for greatness, not for fame, but greatness....because greatness is defined by service" - Martin Luther King Jr.
In today's Gospel (Mark 9:30-37), we look in on Jesus as he is making his way through Galilee with his disciples. In response to some chatter that appeared to be bordering on heated and perhaps even combative, upon arriving at Capernaum, Jesus asked them:
"What were you arguing about along the way?" But they remained silent. For they had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the twelve and said to them "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all."
We quickly begin to realize that achieving greatness in God's Kingdom is the complete antithesis of achieving "greatness" by well-established Earthly standards. Knowing however that this is our eternal struggle, the fact that our desires for the things of God are directly opposed to our desires for the things of this world (Galatians 5:17), we begin to realize that we're sort of up against it here. Worldly examples of genuine, selfless, service-driven leadership are of course few and far between. Seeking power has certainly replaced seeking to empower. As I type this, Federal Government overreach the likes of which we have never seen in this country is taking place on a seemingly daily basis. Corporate Leaders casually downsizing thousands of talented and loyal employees so that they can meet their budget projections and collect their $40 million bonus at year's end. Hollywood Celebrities lecturing the everyday person regarding their reckless environmental irresponsibility between trips on their ozone blistering private jets, which of course take them to their luxury yachts. I think it's safe to say that we'll need to look elsewhere.
Devine inspiration if you will.
From the Wedding Feast at Cana to the healing and cleansing of countless lepers to his tireless efforts to teach and spread the word of salvation right on up to the eve of his Crucifixion, where he's found washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus paves the way and walks the walk. "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all." As the renowned Taoist philosopher Lao-Tzu said in perhaps his seminal work the Tao-Te-Ching, "The Master doesn't glitter like a jewel....(but is) as rugged and common as a stone."
We can't do it on our own. And we'll stumble many times along the way. Many, many times.
But what happens next is interesting. Taking a small child and putting it in their midst while simultaneously putting his arm around it, he says to them "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."
A direct reference to our responsibility to protect, enrich, care for and treat the children in our lives as the precious gifts from God that they are for sure, but perhaps also a subtle reminder from Jesus that we must possess a child-like faith in our own right. Now of course there's a big difference between having a "childish" faith as opposed to a "child-like" faith, but that's a discussion (and essay) for another day. And it certainly wouldn't be the first time Jesus espouses this notion ("Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" - Matthew 18:4).
If we were to play word association and I were to ask you what word(s) come to mind when you are asked to describe a child, some of the responses might be "innocent", "trusting", "optimistic", "non-judgmental", "pure", "benevolent", "inspiring", "persistent", "observant", "magnetic", "honest", "gentle" and I could go on. Do these sound like the qualities of a genuine and dynamic adult Catholic? Perhaps we should all take a cue from those who venerate the great St Therese of Lisieux, when they pray:
"Little Flower of Jesus, give me your childlike faith, to see the face of God in people and experiences of my life, and to love God with full confidence. Help me to always believe as you did in God's great love for me, so that I might imitate your "little way" each day."
Humility and service are the hallmarks of a true disciple. As the Apostles eventually learned through the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit that revealed itself to them on Pentecost Sunday, trying your best is far more important that being the best. A new perspective on how one should channel their ambition must be considered and habitually reflected upon. Colleen Townsend Evans reminds us that "Faith is an area where growing up means we must become more like a child."
May this always be the path we faithfully take. As I mentioned earlier, we cannot do it alone. Pray for the wisdom to always practice your faith with a child-like innocence and simplicity. And be patient with God and with yourself....for as Pablo Picasso once said, "it takes a long time to become young,"