OT XXV [B] Wis 2:12, 17-20; Jas 3:16--4:3; Mk 9:30-37
There was a story a number of years ago that was carried in the newspapers and in Time magazine. Mary Frances "Frankie" Housley was the lone stewardess on National Airlines flight 83 which crashed after landing at Philadelphia Airport in January, 1951. Frankie Housley had made 10 trips into that burning plane... to help passengers get out. As soon as she had finished getting all of the passengers to safety Housley also started to jump from the plane. But just before she made her escape, a passenger on the ground screamed, “My baby, my baby!” Flight attendant Mary Housley turned back into the plane to find the baby, and that was the last time anyone saw her alive. She died in the attempt to save the baby, and rescue workers found her charred body holding the four-month-old baby in her arms. The story of her courage made national headlines, including an item in Time magazine. One passenger called her a "real heroine." A congressman labeled her the bravest American in history.
Today’s Gospel challenges Christians to serve others with Frankie’s dedication and sacrificial commitment.
The readings invite us to become great in the sight of God by doing God’s will, as Jesus did, surrendering our lives in humble service of others.
The second reading is in tune with the dispute among the apostles about who is the greatest. James warns us that selfish ambitions destroy peace and cause conflicts and war. He advises us to choose the path of righteousness and humble service which leads to lasting peace. Jesus also teaches his apostles that child-like humility and loving, selfless service make one great in the eyes of God.
St Augustine wrote: “Observe a tree, how it first reaches downwards so that it may then shoot upwards. It sinks its roots deep into the ground so that its top may reach towards the skies. Is it not from humility that it endeavors to grow? But without humility it will not reach higher. You want to grow up into the air without roots. That is not growth, but collapse.”
It is the ego, the false self, that looks for promotion; the real self, the self that comes every moment from the hand of God, doesn't need it or look for it.
When Jesus and his apostles sit down to relax in Capernaum after a day of walking the hot, dusty roads of Galilee, he knows exactly what they have been talking about - success, glory, greatness.
But the apostles are too embarrassed to admit it; they suspect that their interest in worldly success is a too self-centered to be praiseworthy. But our Lord's response is surprising. He doesn't tell them that they shouldn’t desire to excel, to achieve, to do great things. He doesn't condemn that very normal impulse - because he knows that achieving things, making a difference in the world, is a basic need felt by every human heart. This is one of the purposes of our lives: being a sign of God's goodness by making a positive difference in the world. So Jesus doesn't scold them for wanting to do something great. Instead, he tells them what true greatness really is.
Greatness in Christ's Kingdom is equated with humility, an attitude of the heart that puts the good of others ahead of one's own preferences: it's self-giving, not self-getting. He doesn't say to his apostles, "Don't strive to achieve great things," but he does point out where true, lasting, fulfilling greatness lies - in loving one's neighbor as Christ has loved them. Jesus is the Servant-Lord; we, his faithful disciples, are called to follow in those demanding footsteps.
When Jesus said the paradox of the first becoming the last: he was standing conventional wisdom on its head. The truly great person is a diakonos -- a deacon; a servant; a person who spends his/her day taking loving care of other people.
Mother Teresa puts it like this: “Be the living expression of God's kindness through humble service. Show kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile and kindness in your warm greeting.”
The two conditions of true greatness are humility and loving service. Turning to Jesus who emptied himself taking the form of a servant, sacrificed his life for redemption of humanity, let’s ask for the grace to learn humility and humble service from him and lay down our life in the service of our brothers and sisters.