Reflections on the Readings
Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 20, 2009
Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost - Year B
By Dennis Hankins
They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.
In fact, they had been arguing about who would be greatest. Jesus' words about being handed over to men to be killed had fallen on unenlightened ears. They much preferred a 'discussion' on success and promotion and name tags and labels. Ah, the ladder to the top and who would first achieve the distinction of arriving at the top clouded their minds.
What a situation. And in this gospel reading, we have a situation. It's more than amazing on how not much has changed in two thousand years; at least, how the same temptation still invades our imagination.
What is the true measure and meaning of greatness?
Certainly, Jesus dying at the hands of an angry mob did not resemble for his followers any notion of greatness. Nor did the victorious outcome, that is, Christ rising from the dead three days after his ordeal, inspire the imagination of his disciples.
"You want to be great, make a big impression on folks?"
"Sure, Jesus! From the moment I saw you turning the water into wine, I've hitched my wagon to you. I expect to tell everyone back home that I've finally made something of myself; that I'm Jesus' right hand man."
Jesus smiles briefly and then turns his attention to a child among them. The little guy had been snuggling up to the Master since he had entered the house. Stroking the locks of his hair while speaking to his disciples, other children had gathered around. His voice resonated with their little souls; they felt safe near him.
This scene being lost on his success driven followers, Jesus draws their attention to one of the little children. Setting him in their midst he explains what is the true measure and meaning of greatness.
"So Judas, you want to be great."
"You want to be at the top of the chain of success in my Kingdom?" Jesus asked him.
Judas jingles the money bag under his cloak. With a grin he answers the Master, "You bet. I can't wait till we teach those nasty Romans a thing or two."
Jesus surveys the situation, as he holds the shoulders of the child in front of them. Looking at Peter, then James, then John, Jesus' eyes grow penetratingly fixed on all of his men.
"If you want to be greatest." Jesus stops for a moment, then speaks again. "If you want to be greatest, then you must be the servant of all, and you best start with how you will serve, by beginning with the children. Whoever receives a child in my name, receives me. And not just me, but my Father as well."
You could have heard a pin drop. It usually is something of an unbelievable experience to learn that the height of the ladder to the top is something about the size of a child
There's nothing like a child to help clarify a situation. Have you ever had a melt down at you house? Recently we had one at ours. In the midst of the obvious way I had mishandled the moment, my youngest daughter, Heidi, almost nine years old, said, "You need to go to confession!" Yes, I went.
Start with the least and most vulnerable among us and serve them. Of such is the Kingdom of heaven. One of the greatest compliments I ever received was from a Mother. Folks I had never met before, but upon my first time to get to know them, I offered my open arms to their little boy safely tucked in his Mother's arms. The boy, who had never seen me before, trustingly reached for me. His Mom said to me, "You have a good heart; he trusts you."
What is the true measure and meaning of greatness? Jesus said it was becoming the servant of all, starting with the children. That means having a heart that is not duplicitous or demanding. A heart of a servant, to whom it doesn't matter who gets the credit or the promotion, just as long as a child can see the face of Jesus in my innermost self.
Let us pray: Dearest Father, your only Son became flesh by the Holy Spirit in the womb of your servant, Mary. The wisest men of the time, served him and honored him with priceless gifts. May we serve him as well in the least among us, starting with the child in our midst. Amen.