For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest
I was watching my kids navigate their way around a crowded playground the other day, and I was amazed. Even young kids are concerned about who is leading and who is following, which friends should be included in play and who just isn’t worthy that day. There are always lots of hurt feelings and not as many apologies. Everyone wants to be first for everything-in line, on the bus, at the snack table. The kid with the coolest toy at show-and-tell has the biggest crowd around him after school. But this isn’t what amazed me.
What made me really step back in awe was to think about myself and the other parents and how far we haven’t come from our own days on the playground. Status, wealth-we may have advanced the concepts, but aren’t we still all jockeying for position somehow? Don’t we complain about how much more we deserved the promotion at work than our neighbor? Don’t we feel a tinge of jealousy when we see our neighbor’s expensive new car? Don’t we spend time envying the lives of our favorite famous celebrities? Not very far advanced over the politics of the playground, if you ask me.
In today’s gospel, the disciples are arguing about who among them is the greatest. Can you imagine this for a moment-sitting in the presence of Christ and squabbling about who is better or smarter or stronger? Our Lord quickly puts an end to the bickering by inviting a child into their midst, "whoever receives this child in my name, receives me." I have often wondered about this passage, but I think I have a clearer view since having my own children. Trust me, to care for a child is to serve him, and it will quickly deplete any amount of arrogance you may have!
But, it’s not just about how we treat others. (Though in seeking power and greatness, it is always at the expense of someone else.) It is also about what it means to have real faith. In taking Christ as our Savior, we are saying that we do not define our worth by the world’s flimsy standards. What matters is our standing with God.
In reply to this, John tells Christ that the disciples witnessed someone doing good works in Jesus’ name. But because he was not one of their small band of followers, they tried to stop him. At this point in our lessons about pride, I half expected Jesus to say something along the lines of: "Are you kidding me?" The goal is to serve and to move closer to God. Does John really see this other person as a rival because he is serving in Jesus’ name apart from their tight knit group? Is he really going to undermine this other man’s ministry? Is John trying to bring glory to God or to himself? He might as well have come right out and told that man he had to get lost because he wasn’t one of the cool kids. Jesus tells his disciples quite simply, "whoever is not against you is for you."
In other words-serve God, not your ego. You might just earn a gold star at recess.
Marlo Serritella is on staff at the Holy Cross Province Development Office in Chicago.