true greatness

Biblea biblical reflection, based on Mark 9.30-37, for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, September 20, 2015

Peter, in response to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?”, answers, “Messiah.” Jesus then teaches his disciples that he is a Messiah without a messianic-complex – his cause, proclaiming God’s kingdom of love and justice for all; his throne of triumph, a cross of crucifixion.

His identity and destiny confirmed, Jesus heads to Jerusalem and his do-and-die confrontation with adversarial authorities. But with every step, his disciples, acting like children, argue about who among them is greatest.

If I was Jesus, I would be hurt and angry that my friends thoughtlessly, selfishly ignored the deadly severity of my need and I would chastise them in the most ungodly language! But if Jesus does that, he, like them, would make it personal – all about him.

Rather, he asks, “What were you arguing about?” I imagine the disciples, again, like children, in mortified silence waiting for one of them to say something. Anything! Even then a frustrated Jesus, with pointed finger and sharper words, might shame them. Rather, in the presence of a child, he, not ignoring their concern, teaches them about greatness: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

An amazing teaching on two counts…

Jesus instructs not by injunction, but observation. He doesn’t say, “You must do this”, but rather, “Life is like this.” Life, as created by God, is more giving than receiving. More caring for others, especially those in need as represented by a child. More justice for all than just us (whoever “us” happens to be in relation to “them”). More radical hospitality than calculated generosity. If we focus solely, even largely on our individual interests, life (which by divine design is not only meant to be, but is relational, communal, mutually beneficial) cannot exist.

Jesus, linking greatness with service, places prestige not within the reach, but in and of the hands of everyone. This also is how life is. Not everyone is materially wealthy or possesses earthly authority or wields worldly power. But everyone everywhere everyday can serve at least one somebody in need, and, therefore, is great.

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2 thoughts on “true greatness

  1. This is a Fabulous reflection Paul!!!!! I love (and need) these teachable moments, both from Jesus and from you!!!

    On Tuesday night, only two people came to my first presentation in Detroit. So with the woman who worked for Arden Courts there were 4 of us in the room. I’ve told you before that I’m never down about who shows up (or doesn’t) because I believe everyone is where they are Supposed to be at any given time. As soon as the gentlemen in the group walked in, I knew he needed help!! He is a long-term partner of a man with early onset Alzheimer’s. The disease had already started before they could legally get married. He’s only 51. The poor man said he was at his wits end and didn’t know where to turn for help in caring for his partner. He shared that he was virtually broke though he still worked every day. We started and I gave my normal presentation BUT clearly focused on him. I gave him some of my written care resources I had with me and he was beyond grateful. I gave, and gave and gave to him.. Long after the session was supposed to end. Anything I could do to help him not feel so helpless and alone. He thanked us over and over, and as the four of us enjoyed cheese and crackers and iced tea in the conference room before departing we felt like family!! When I got to my hotel that night I was so tired from working, then flying to Detroit…. But I was soooooo proud of myself because I (and the other two women) helped to literally lift this man up. He asked me as we were departing if he cold pay me for all the things I had given him, including a free copy of my book. The other woman in attendance was a social worker and is going to personally handle his case! I told him that he’d given me everything I needed. If more people had been in attendance I don’t believe he would have gotten everything he needed that night. I’ve received several emails from him since yesterday and he’s well on his way to getting all the services he needs. Sometimes in life, you just need a few people to give, and of course Jesus!! I don’t think I’d feel this good even if I had won the lottery!
    Thanks Paul!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, Loretta. This experience that you share, for me, is poignant (given the gentlemen’s immediate and long term need of help in offering care to his partner) and powerful (given the practical assistance you and others offered to him, both ostensibly small [in terms of human welcome and acceptance] and large [in terms of guidance and hands-on support for him and his partner going forward into what we know will be a life of loss and deepening difficulty]). Nevertheless, as I instantly reflect on what I’ve written, ALL of it – every act of kindness, every deed of real-world help – is gargantuan, revealing the presence and power of transcendence breaking and entering into our life in this world. As believe what I’m getting at (tho’ not saying it particularly well or clearly) is that this, for me, is a spiritual experience, a moment of incarnate grace when God appears in the world of time and space and acts to fulfill the tenets of love. Amen!

    Liked by 1 person

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