[25th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B, Sept 20, 2015 / Wis 2:12, 17-20 / Ps 54:3-4, 5, 6-8 / Jas 3:16—4:3 / Mark 9:30-37]
THE boxer Muhammad Ali’s famous catch phrase was “I am the greatest!” Today in the Gospel (Mark 9:30-37) the disciples are arguing among themselves who is the greatest. Man desires to be great, to do great things. To be great you need to be ambitious. In your company if you want great sales, you need to have an ambitious program. There is no greatness without ambition. Jesus once told some disciples, “You will see greater things than this!” How great to be ambitious not just for money or worldly power but for the kingdom.
Recently we hosted a prayer meeting for teenagers and it was encouraging seeing so many saying there greatest desire was “to be a better person.” For sure if Jesus calls us to follow him it is to because he wants us to become great: to be great in love, to be great in taking risks for the gospel, to be great in peace, kindness and forgiveness. In a word, great in doing good.
As the Church document Optatam totius reminds us, the moral life is to reflect the greatness “of the calling of the faithful in Christ and the obligation that is theirs of bearing fruit in charity for the life of the world.” Wow! What a great perspective. It is not just to say, “I am not a bad Catholic I have not killed anyone” but it is to do great things with all the faith and love we have in Christ.
It is interesting–the context of the discussion of greatness of the disciples. Immediately beforehand Jesus had been explaining his passion and death, how much he would suffer: “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” But the disciples did not get it. In-stead they were thinking of worldly greatness and ambition. In Shakespeare’s play we find Macbeth lamenting, “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition which o’erleaps itself and falls on th’other.” (Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 7) Macbeth talks of worldly ambition, using the metaphor of jumping onto a horse so en-thusiastically that he falls onto the other side. Macbeth’s worldly ambition is so great he is prepared to kill to get what he wants.
The letter of James states, “Where do these wars and battles between yourselves first start? Is it not precisely in the desires fighting inside your own selves? You want something and you lack it; so you kill. You have an ambition that you cannot satisfy; so you fight to get your way by force. It is because you do not pray that you do not receive; when you do pray and do not receive, it is because you prayed wrongly, wanting to indulge your passions.” (James 4:1-3) We pray for a great score in the exam – ok, then study! We desire to be great preachers of the Word of God – ok, so prepare well your talk.
Jesus shows the disciples the real way to greatness. He sits down, tells them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all,” then welcomes a child and says, “Do this in my name.” He does not quench the Spirit of greatness in his disciples but orients it. He shows that greatness is achieved through small steps. Often you can gaze and dream about future greatness and lose sight of the vital steps to get in the here and now. When I win the lottery I will give millions to the poor. But generosity is not improvised! If you cannot feed one hundred, then just feed one!
How can we be sure that all we need will lead us to the greatness of the Kingdom and not be led astray by worldly ambition and desire? Jesus tells us, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.” Whatever we do to do it “in the name of Jesus,” to do it as U2 would sing “in the name of love.” To do everything offering it through Him, with Him, in Him, always abounding in energy for the Lord’s work, being sure that in the Lord none of our effort is wasted. (1 Corinthians 15:58). Of course we need great projects for the Lord to fire up all our imagina-tion. As St John Leonardi wrote, “Great works are accomplished only by great men, and great men should be in-volved in great works.”
Let us ask Mary our Mother for guidance, for she was able to be faithful to the small steps but never losing sight of the big picture: “He has looked with favor on his lowly servant but generations will call me blessed!”