During this part of the Liturgical year we are walking with Christ to Jerusalem. We are on his journey from the river to the cross; from His baptism in the Jordan to our rescue on a hill outside of Jerusalem. As we walk with the disciples alongside Jesus we hear him teach them and us about His message, about His Father’s desire for us to be His adopted children – about His love for us.
In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks again of his impending passion; explaining to them what He must go through. But the disciples are on a ‘different page’ – the gospel says: ‘they were afraid to question him’ and they were afraid for many reasons; but maybe one reason was paramount, they were afraid of the answer would get. After all that time with Jesus they were starting to understand that His way and what they hoped for wasn’t the same. It wasn’t in their realm of comprehension that the savior wouldn’t be one of wisdom and power as they understood those words.
We hear in this Gospel that Jesus questioned them about what they were talking about. They were, of course, discussing who was the greatest among them. Even though we don’t hear the discussion they were having, the fact that Jesus corrected them means the disciples didn’t understand what true greatness was. They were doing what mankind has always done since the fall of Adam and Eve – they were looking at greatness as something that put them above others. We are great when we are superior to those around us; when we are more prestigious in the eyes of society.
But in reading and hearing this gospel I am reminded of a story.
Two men and the little son of one of the men were standing in St. Peter’s square in the Vatican mesmerized by the great St. Peter’s Basilica. After standing there for quite a while the one man looks to the father of the boy and in amazement says ‘what a beautiful dome, it shows the greatness of our Church better than anything’. In reply the father of the boy says ‘it is a beautiful dome and it is very impressive, but it’s the towering columns inside and the artwork on them that speak of the greatness of our Church. Isn’t that right son?’ The boy looks at the two men and then at St Peter’s and then back at the two – and as he points to the base of the Church he says ‘but daddy the dome and the columns wouldn’t be so great if it wasn’t for these.’
Jesus tells his disciples that their idea of greatness is a charade, it is an allusion. In our second reading St. James cuts to the core of the problem: ‘You covet but do not possess.’ he tells us. The things that we seem to think make us wise and powerful are never ours, never at our control, rather they control us. We think being prestigious is a sign of our wisdom and strength, and yet we have to constantly struggle to feel prestigious. When we don’t feel we have the respect that we deserve we struggle to gain it back. When we feel that we aren’t great and important, that we don’t have control over our situation, we struggle to win it back – and the word ‘win’, by society’s definition, means someone else loses. This is a mindset of conflict not of wisdom; a mindset of insecurity not of greatness. With this mindset it is no wonder that people get frustrated when their prayers aren’t answered – again from our second reading.’ You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.’
The most important, the greatest, among us are the ones who put those around them first. We are truly wise and great when we serve others. We are powerful and God-like when we love totally those who can’t offer anything in return – who haven’t got anything to offer, at least the way our society sees it. When we follow God’s example then we are wise; then we are great. God, who creates everything, comes and gives Himself as payment for our sins. He serves those who have nothing to give him that He didn’t give them in the first place. He offers Himself totally in support of His flock; in support of you and me.
So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s take society’s ideas of wisdom and greatness and throw it to the winds. Cast off society’s false illusions that control us and let’s embrace our Lord’s understanding of these ideas. When we do we can then embrace those around us as Christ does and find that our hearts will be at peace and know the joy of true love – all the while building, person by person, the glory of God’s Church. That is what it means to be great and wise!