In today’s Gospel Our Lord invites the apostles, and us, to revisit what we consider to be the path to greatness.
Today’s First Reading imagines the resentment of the wicked when faced with someone who follows the path of wisdom and tries to share it, a path they don’t follow. The wicked have decided to break with tradition and head out in a different direction, but the wise man teaches them that they haven’t taken a different path, but, rather, gone off the right path. In today’s culture we speak of respecting other outlooks and life styles, but that doesn’t mean not telling someone they’re about to walk off a cliff or ruin their life. However, we also experience, when we do try to intervene, or simple show a different way of living, the same attitude as the wicked in today’s First Reading: jealously, resentment, and a desire to teach a lesson and show them who’s really right.
St. James reminds us in today’s Second Reading that jealously and selfish ambition only lead to discord. James teaches us that outer conflicts stem from inner ones. Wars rarely remain within the confines of where they broke out; they always strive to spread and conquer new terrain in order to fuel their ambitions. Similarly, our selfish ambitions don’t just remain in our hearts or in our living rooms; they put us on a path to clashing with others pursuing their own selfish goals. As St. James reminds us today, that path only leads to frustration, because seeking vain things is seeking empty things, and if those things can never satisfy us, we will always be at conflict within ourselves and with others. It’s a recipe for endless conflict with no end in sight. Loving the world to the exclusion of God is a road to nowhere; if we set our sights on the world, we set our sights on something that ultimately will fade away.
Our Lord in today’s Gospel describes the path to greatness today as one of service, and not just any service: the humble service willing to lay down your life for the benefit of another. Even an ambitious person can seek to perform some service to achieve his ends. When Our Lord gives the example of serving a child, it’s like a cold bucket of water dumped on the disciples’ selfish ambitions. Babysitting is not high in anyone’s book in terms of a career, nor nanny, and, sadly, even in some circles of society the vocation to be a parent is avoided. But God reveals himself in terms of family relationships, and Our Lord tells us today to serve that child in his name in order to serve not only him, but Our Heavenly Father who sent him. No matter how great we become in the eyes of society we can never neglect even the least members of it, because our only ambition should be to serve. Nor can we forget that if we achieved anything in our life it was thanks to our parents.
In olden times when you met someone for the first time you’d introduce yourself with your names and the words, “At your service.” That seems to have disappeared from modern vocabulary unless you’re hired to do it. Why not do some small act of service this week for someone from whom you’ll get nothing material or self-interested out of it at all? Good friendships often start with disinterested love.
Readings: Wisdom 2:12, 17–20; Psalm 54:3–8; James 3:16–4:3; Mark 9:30–37. See also 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.