What Were You Just Discussing?
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 19, 2021
“…but they had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.
Then he sat down, called the twelve and said,
“If anyone wishes to be first, he must be the last of all and the servant of all.”
From Mark 9:30-37
Most of us have been at jobs or have known people in school whom you might charitably call “climbers”. They are the ones who have a deep desire to get ahead of others, and often are willing to do just about anything to achieve this. Amazingly, Jesus spends much time trying to help us understand what is most important to God, because during our brief earthly lives we are establishing whether we will go to heaven, hell or purgatory, but especially our rank in heaven.
All of us are interested in what is going to happen in the future, both in the world and in our own lives. But when it comes to heaven (and purgatory and hell), in spite of all the hints we receive in Sacred Scripture, there will be many surprises when we arrive. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of that future reality is that we will be ranked from first to last in the Kingdom of Heaven depending on our response to the will of God as we were able to understand it. Though we will not all be equal, we will all be happy!
Among the biggest surprises will be discovering who ranks among the greatest and who the least. Here is one of Jesus’ most challenging teachings: the greatest in heaven will probably not be the ones receiving the most applause here. It is not the person who makes a big show of their presence to others that God notices first, but rather, the humble servant who is not interested in attracting attention to their lives.
It matters not to God whether we are given great and important tasks in his church or the least noticeable tasks. What matters is that we do these things without necessarily expecting recognition or reward. Of course, we all like our contribution or service to be appreciated, but what happens when it isn’t? This will go a long way to revealing how humble we really are—or aren’t!
In my first assignment, we decided to have a “Volunteer Recognition Dinner” and sent out mailed invitations to everyone we could think of who deserved some kind of recognition. Well, this was quite a fiasco, and we learned a lot from this experience, because, perhaps inevitably, feelings were hurt when some good people were inadvertently missed in the invitations.
When Christ advises us to take the lowest place in service in order to rank highest, he does not necessarily mean we should all strive to do the dishes after the parish picnic (although, truth be told, cleanup is always the hardest slot to fill). Rather, we can tell if we are doing something out of love for God during those times we are not recognized, when our well-meaning efforts are criticized, when a gift is not appreciated, when we seem to be passed over though we have done our best, or if we are asked to take an assignment we believe is beneath us. These kinds of situations can be pure gold if we have united everything we do to Christ first and realize that our rank in heaven, which lasts forever, may be deeply affected by these seemingly small tasks or misunderstandings we have accepted for love of him.