Wisdom 2:12, 17–20; James 3:16 – 4:3 Mark 9: 30–37
“Great” is a word that we have heard time and again in recent years. Today we hear from Jesus both emphatically and clearly the meaning that he gives to “great.” For the second of three time recorded by Saint Mark Jesus informs his followers what he faces as he continues his ministry. He would be betrayed, condemned and executed, but he will also rise. Despite repeating this, what does he encounter from his close followers? When they are confronted, they admit that they were arguing about who among them is the greatest.
Interestingly, Mark makes the point of saying that when he heard this, Jesus sat down. I had to wonder whether Jesus sat down with a large sigh- a sign of frustration. If they had been arguing about who was the greatest, they certainly had not been listening closely to him. They clearly had missed the point of what he had been saying.
The revelation of God’s love for mankind, which is the object and goal of the ministry of Jesus, would require the greatest gift that he could give: his life itself. That giving of his life would take place through the cruel execution of the cross. This was the result of the obstinate refusal of those who ought to have known, who ought to have understood and accepted what he was teaching. The close followers of Jesus, his chosen Apostles, gave evidence of the fact that they were stuck on that same level of misunderstanding as those leaders who would be responsible for his crucifixion. They were stuck on the level of thinking that equated “great” with power, position, wealth, and control.
Faced with this, Jesus takes a child and sets it in their midst. This is significant because a child in that society and in that culture had no standing, had no position, had no power, had no influence. One who received this child, who respected this child, who recognized and accepted this child, received and accepted Christ, received an accepted God in the true sense. In doing this, one also acknowledged that greatness comes from humble recognition of what we areas creatures of a loving God. Greatness comes from imitating and reflecting our loving God in humble and total service to others and to mankind as Christ showed by his sacrifice on the cross.
To focus only on one’s self, on what we might have or what wish we had, clouds the vision of what we are to have as followers of Christ. To focus on one’s self and some possible position or power or possession we might have, clouds the vision of what we are as believers in Jesus Christ. As Jesus embraced the child, we are to embrace others in our lives. We are to embrace the ones who are considered the least, the neglected, the overlooked, in order that we might more fully appreciate our potential to make God known.
Being other-focused allows for the recognition of the gifts in life that we possess, Instead of resenting what we do not have, we become grateful for what we do have and how these gifts allow to affirm others and thus be affirmed in ourselves by God. Genuine gratitude to God allows us to be peaceful and merciful in our relationships with others. Genuine gratitude for what we are and what we can express to others is what it truly means to be “great” as Jesus taught. Being “great” in this way we can reflect and reveal the truth and reality of a good and gracious God.