By Deacon Gary Newton
In the Gospel today (Mark 9:30-37) the Disciples were arguing about who among them was the greatest. We do the same thing. We argue about greatness many times throughout our lives. When we are young we may argue about who is Mom or Dad’s favorite, then who is better in sports, who is more likely to succeed in life.
What does it mean to succeed? How do we measure success in our lives? From a societal standpoint we look at someone’s education, how much money they make, how big a house they have, how expensive is their car, clothes and jewelry. The more you have the more successful you are. Isn’t that correct? Well, it depends on who you are asking that question. In Jesus’ time you would get agreement from the Scribes, Pharisees and Tax Collectors. But from Jesus you would get a very different answer. It’s not how much you have that matters but how you attain it and what you do with it. It’s about our goals in life, what we are truly seeking and what our personal understanding of greatness is.
Jesus is telling us that our goals, our happiness in life should not be based on the world’s view of success, only on achieving God’s will for us. Who does Jesus use as an example of a successful person? Is it someone famous, revered or respected like the high priests or Caesar? No, he uses a child. A child had no social standing in society. Jesus is making the point that a child is spiritually powerful. The child has no pretenses, he is who he is. Why do you think a child can find joy in the simple things around him? That’s because he doesn’t get lost in self-serving pride as adults do. The best times in life are when we are least aware of ourselves. This is seen in the simplicity of a child.
The famous author, T.S. Eliot said: “Most of the trouble in the world is caused by people wanting to be important.” St. James is very clear about this in the Second Reading when he states: “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice… Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?”
Ambition and envy can affect us. They come from our passions which wage war within us. Envy lives in the past when we want the same success as others and ambition lives in the future where we focus on achieving goals in life. Do we let envy affect our ambitions leading us to set misguided goals? The key is: what is driving our passion? Saint James points out that our passions in life drive us but they must be ordered from above by the wisdom of God. We need to live in the present where our passion is focused on achieving God’s will for us in the here and now.
A common question is how do we know God’s will for us? Hint: It should be driven by love of neighbor. We will encounter Christ through our loving encounters with others.
In the Gospel today both Jesus and his Disciples are setting the goal for the followers of Christ to be the best version of themselves that they can be. It’s also clear that Jesus and his Disciples have a different understanding of what that means. There was a prideful element in the Disciples conversation of who was the greatest among them. They were making assumptions of Jesus’ criteria of greatness based on societal norms. Who would be first and who would be last?
As Jesus does many times, he turns our understating of things completely upside down. Jesus states: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” That statement is a shock in and of itself but he goes on to liken it to the importance of a child. If anyone other than Jesus said that, it would seem absurd. In that time, a child had the lowest social standing. But Jesus made the point clear, your social status means nothing, it is your service to others that defines you.
This is the same message for us as it was to his Disciples. How can we serve our fellow man? We had an example just last week. We commissioned members of our parish in various ministries of service. They didn’t volunteer so that they would get accolades from the parish community. They volunteered to be of service to others.
We see today that many people struggle with misguided expectations and how they are viewed by others as whether they are successful in life or not. Their self-worth is diminished if they feel they do not live up to these societal expectations. It’s an important topic throughout our lives from childhood to adulthood. It’s not any different from Jesus’ time or any other time in human history.
We must shake off the influence of the stigma of societal expectations and find our value in serving God through service to others. One of my greatest joys of having children was being able to play childhood games with them. It allowed me to be childlike again without being judged. When I crammed myself with them into one of the little cars that goes around and around on a small track at an amusement park, it reminded me of the joy of being a kid again. If I gave into a prideful feeling that I would look silly as an adult on that ride, I would also have missed out on one of the most joyful and precious times of my life.
So do not let your self-worth be based on how society views you, it should be about how God views you. It is about how we lovingly touch people’s hearts and souls. Our names may never show up in a newspaper, magazine, or best seller book, but if we are a positive influence in people’s lives, we will be counted among the saved in the book of life. There is no better book to be mentioned in, and no better accolades to receive then those from our Lord and God.