Gospel Mk 9:30-37
“Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
The Catholic faith is one which embraces paradox – those seemingly absurd, contradictory sounding statements that upon closer inspection turn out to be true.
Some of these classic paradoxes include claims that God is One and God is Three; Jesus is both fully God and fully man; Mary is both virgin and mother, and so the list goes on.
Here in today’s Gospel we find Jesus dropping another one of these paradoxical truth bombs upon us: To be first in the kingdom of heaven we must be last and servant of all.
This claim turns our regular mode of operating on its head. We often feel that in order to be ‘first’ we need to assert ourselves – to exercise power and make history in some way or another. Instead Jesus tells us that to be ‘first’ in the only place that really counts at the end of the day, we must put ourselves last and be servant of all.
What does this look like? For most of us this is difficult to fathom, but if we think for a moment about the people in our world who honestly put themselves last, in the service of all around them we are confronted with some truly great people, people such as Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Dorothy Day, and Jean Vanier among others.
It is so easy for us to be overwhelmed with the suffering that occurs in our world. We think, ‘what can I do, I’m just one person?’ While it is true that we cannot help all of humanity, we can show love in a real and tangible way to those with whom we live and work, those who we pass in our daily commute and the like. We have no real way of demonstrating love for humanity in general. We can show love to the specific people that we encounter daily.
This is much more difficult that it would otherwise seem, but it is much more effective.
It is only through this self-emptying gift of ourselves that greatness is achieved in us. Let us pray for that grace.
A quote to contemplate
“The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular. In my dreams, I often make plans for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually face crucifixion if it were suddenly necessary. Yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together. I know from experience. As soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs me and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men: one because he’s too long over his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps on blowing his nose. I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me. But it has always happened that the more I hate men individually the more I love humanity.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov