25th Sunday in Ordinary Time          

            Muhammad Ali is reported to have said, “When you’re as great as I am, it’s hard to be humble.” Perhaps, you have seen pictures of the famous boxer waving his boxing gloves in the air and saying, “I am the greatest!”

            Today’s gospel passage deals with the whole question of greatness. What is it? Where does one get it? Who has it? The disciples of Jesus certainly want it, that is why they are arguing who is the greatest among them. When Jesus asks about it, they are silent. They are struck dumb with embarrassment for they recognize the immense discrepancy between Jesus’s denial of himself and their own desire for self-promotion and self-aggrandizement. After all, Jesus has just told them about his own suffering and death as a means of saving the world. The disciples are embarrassed about their discussion. They do not really want Jesus to know.

            They are not that much different from us. I doubt that many of us would want to have Jesus overhear everything that we say in private. William Barclay has this striking commentary: “If we took everything and set it in the sight of Jesus, it would make all the difference in the world.” “If of everything we did, we asked: ‘Could I go on doing this if Jesus was watching me?’” “If of everything we said, we asked, ‘Could I go on talking like this if Jesus was listening to me?’” The fact is, we really do not want to know what Jesus thinks of what we say and do. It might change things and change us too radically. We do not want to hear what we say in private.

            Going back to the question of greatness… Imagine the great embarrassment of the disciples upon hearing Jesus saying: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” The Lord is telling us the path to true greatness. And he simply turns everything upside-down. Greatness is found in service. The greatest is the one who serves. That cannot be right!

            Hindi kaya nagkamali si Hesus? Baka ang talagang sinasabi niya ay: “The greatest people are those who have the most servants.” But no, he is saying precisely the opposite. In another gospel passage, Jesus says, “The greatest among you must be your servant.” And in another, he says, “I am among you as the one who serves.” Kabaligtaran sa lipunan natin, ang prinsipyo ni Hesus ay: “Greater is the one who serves a hundred than the one who has a hundred servants.”

            At any given moment we have a choice: to serve or to be served. We can choose to do things with kindness and generosity, instead of expecting others to be kind and generous to us. We can choose affirm those who try to do good, instead of demanding recognition for ourselves. We can choose to serve by being good stewards of God’s gifts instead of using others to protect our ambition and interest. The sense in which our Lord uses the term serve, service or being a servant includes any act that is unselfish, selfless and other-oriented. Kathleen Norris, in her book Amazing Grace, says, “Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others.”

            According to William Barclay, what the Lord Jesus is telling us is this: “If you are prepared to spend your life serving, helping, loving people who, in the eyes of the world, do not matter at all, you are serving me and serving God.” “If you are prepared to spend your life doing these apparently unimportant things and never trying to be what the world calls great, you will be great in the eyes of God.” In other words, for Jesus, greatness is the ability to see the needs of others and respond accordingly. Greatness comes from service, and service comes from humility.

            Let us end with a prayer: Lord Jesus, You showed us the way to greatness through Your footsteps of humble service and Your self-giving love on the cross. Give us the grace we need to be able to follow You by giving ourselves to others. Help us as we strive to love and serve our neighbor to the best of our ability. Amen.

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