In today’s Gospel, Jesus is very clear from His perspective that if we want to be the “greatest” then we must be a “servant” to all peoples. The apostles of Jesus wanted to be His followers. However, through their services, they also aspired to be “great” persons; persons who were rewarded for their labour and sacrifices. That is why in today’s Gospel we hear the apostles “arguing who amongst them was the greatest.”
How many of us here want to be a “great” person? Most of us desire this of ourselves and of our children. This is one reason why many if not most parents pressure their children to be an “A-star” student. To be an A-star student is not only achieving the highest grade in our examinations; it is also connected to one’s reputation and even self-confidence and self-worth. The secular world tells us that when we achieve “A-star” we are a “success”; we are somebody who is looked up to by our teachers and principal in our school. Such perceptions in life for recognition is not too different from the apostles’ desires to be the “greatest.”
Jesus is not against us urging our children to do well in school and to attain all the “A-stars” our children can achieve. When Jesus asserts that “to be the greatest, we must be servants of all peoples,” He is urging us to put our priorities of life in place. Jesus is reminding us not to forget that our ultimate goal in life is not founded on the materialism, the secular honours and glory of this world, but on the spiritual reality of living in glory with God for all eternity.
We are created by God, for God and for all eternity. We owe our human existence to God and today’s Gospel is challenging us not to forget our origin and also our destination to be with God for all eternity. Thus, we are not meant to live this life serving ourselves, seeking glory from others and forgetting that we are meant to be “servants of others” as Jesus has shown us. We are meant to be willing to live the self-sacrificing life and love that Jesus lived.
This “self-sacrificing” love is the greatness of Jesus being delivered into the hands of His persecutors who will put Him to death; and “three days after He has been put to death will rise again.” Today’s Gospel tells us that “the apostles did not understand” what Jesus said.” What about us? Do you think we understand what Jesus is proclaiming?
My brothers and sisters in Christ, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI says that we are made not for comfort as the world tells us, but are created for greatness as Jesus has shown us. The “A-star” illustration that I used earlier is more than our concern for our children’s academic performance. It becomes worrying when we also begin to measure our “greatness” in life with what we own and have achieved in the secular world, and forget who we are in God’s eyes.
Many of us live a stressful and anxiety-filled life because we have sub-consciously imbibed the secular values of “greatness” and have taken it to mean self-glory and the comforts we have in life. The “greatness” that the secular world speaks of is driven by competition and measured by a preoccupation to secure the top spot in everything we own and do in life. This refers to whether it is owning the biggest car, holding the highest position, having the greatest publicity and popularity in life. What is more damaging about the “greatness” that the secular world promotes is that it is presenting a perspective of life that fools us into believing that what happens after you die is something you should not worry about. And, what matters is that we live our lives to the full while we are on earth and not regret it at our death bed.
Is it any wonder that there is a world-wide decline in the vocations to the priesthood and religious life that demands a commitment to profess the perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience? Such vows are meaningless and empty to a secular world that wants to fill our egos with self-importance and our lives with possessions, gratification and arrogance that lead to pride, instead of filling our hearts with a Christ-centred life that finds fulfilment in the service of the Kingdom of God as Jesus has shown us.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, what does “living our lives to the full” mean? Jesus in today’s Gospel is challenging you and I to open our eyes to face the truth that the secular values of “greatness” are hollow; in fact empty and filled with regrets! Unfortunately, the powerful mass-media of the secular world sounds more attractive than the Gospel values of “service and sacrifice.” There seems to be greater excitement about people queuing 16 hours for the latest iphone, than a parish bulletin that tells us about how we are to celebrate the month of October for Our Lady; let us prove this to be wrong in our parish family.
Some years ago, I met Jane (not her real name) who lived life to the full in the secular sense of possessions, gratification and arrogance. She had everything that the world describes as “greatness”. However, one day Jane was shocked to discover the real truth of life; she realised that she was not as invincible and as “great” as she thinks; she discovered that she had cancer in her lungs and it could be terminal. Her sickness shocked her back to reality; she began to turn back to the only absolute reality in her life; she turned back to her almighty God, Our Lord; she began to realise that only God is great; only the salvation of our soul is of greatest importance in life. She said to me, “I have at last found real peace in my life because I have found the real purpose of my life. I have been fooled by the world all these years of my life, and I have squandered the precious life that God has given me; I want to make amends with God; I want God back into my life.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, at this juncture, I think it is important to ask ourselves once again the basic question of Jesus, “What is greatness”? Deep within our hearts we know the answer, but the question is, “Are we willing to face the truth of our conscience or do we prefer to dull our conscience and numb our senses to the Gospel that Jesus is proclaiming to you and to me?
When Jesus asked His apostles, “What are you arguing about? They were all embarrassed and remained silent; they knew in their hearts of hearts that they were wrongly seeking “greatness” of self-centred glory and reward of life instead of serving God’s Kingdom through serving the needs of others for God’s Greater Glory and salvation.
Many of us know of people like Jane; her conversion story reveals the triumph of God over the secular world of pride and emptiness. While we praise the Lord for Jane’s conversion, we have also to plead for God’s Mercy for the billions of people in the world who are swallowed up by the falsehood and fantasies of the “greatness” of the secular world.
How can we witness the Truth of the Gospel of Salvation to them? This is a big challenge; we cannot do it on our own, we need God’s help; we cannot also do it just by hoping to do a few good deeds to people every now and then; we need a change of heart at its core; we need to make that foundational commitment to change our whole perspective and thus our goal in life; like Jane in our story, we need the radical transformation to live solely for God in everything that we do and live for daily.
We can witness to this “greatness” that Jesus proclaims, only if we first begin with ourselves. Let us ponder on this challenge and allow God’s Spirit to speak to you and I for a few moments.
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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