Formula for greatness

Al Cariño
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reproduced with Permission

Once, a journalist saw Mother Teresa of Calcutta who was then engaged in picking up the dying from the streets and caring for them. He told her, "Not even for a million dollars would I do a job like that." "Neither would I," answered Mother Teresa.

Nor would she do it for all the treasures of the world. But she would gladly do it in obedience to what her Master taught her, namely, "Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all." (Mk. 10:43-44). As the world now knows and as it was in her lifetime, her greatness lied in caring for the most unloved, unwanted and uncared for - regardless of race, gender and creed.

What makes a person "great," "first," a leader in our contemporary world? The one with wealth, power and prestige. And how does such a person act, behave? He behaves as if the whole world is beholden to him, revolves around him. But is that what Jesus means by "first" and "great?" Is that how He wants every Christian to act?

In the gospel reading we see Jesus telling His apostles of the suffering and death He would undergo in Jerusalem before He would be raised up in glory. As everyone fell silent to reflect on what He said (Mk. 10:35-45), James and John made a request to Jesus saying, "Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left." There was Jesus ready to answer all questions about what lied ahead and this was what He got!

But ever ready to respond to their immediate concerns, Jesus taught them the formula for greatness, for true leadership: "Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all." Why? "For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." In short, if they want to be great, if they want to be able to sit one at His right and the other at His left in His Kingdom, they must be like the Son of Man - the Servant of all.

Jesus Himself became man, took the condition of a slave and became obedient, even to death on the cross - for our redemption. And this for no other reason except to do the Father's will. He Who was "first," came "to serve and not to be served." Jesus now asked no less of His apostles if they would become effective future leaders of the Church He would shortly establish.

Nowhere is this kind of leadership better exemplified than in a normal family. In such a family, the leaders--the father and mother--are completely at the service of the family, specially the children. Aside from providing them with food, clothing, shelter and education, they also teach them the rudiments of the faith and this, more by their example than by what they say.

Is this the way many of our leaders in the larger community--in the government and those in positions of influence--act? Do they not rather work to get the most for themselves and not for the people they are supposed to serve? Yet many of these leaders profess to be Christians. How conveniently they have forgotten Jesus' teaching of what it means to lead, namely, to serve and not to be served!

At no time is this teaching more relevant than today, World Mission Sunday. The Church, by her very nature, is missionary. And the proclamation of the Good News to our contemporaries is not only the concern of her leaders but of every Christian. To carry this out, we have to be missionaries who serve rather than are served right in our home, our community, our workplace - wherever we are.

This is especially true in our day and age when materialism and consumerism have made such inroads in people's lives. They have made people care less and less for others and more and more for themselves. In fact, their one and only concern is "What can give ME the greatest pleasure now." "Pleasure now," or more to the point, "my satisfaction now" is their god. And this god has its own effective missionaries--the media which proclaim its message of self-satisfaction day in and day out. Moreover, and again, mainly through the media, this god creates not only new "wants" but also new "needs" which further increases the number of people who worship before its altar. No wonder that this idolatry now encompasses the whole world!

It is in such a milieu, that we are to be missionaries, to be proclaimers of the Good News. To be effective, we must not only go out "to serve and not to be served" but also to follow a simple life-style. This was what Jesus and the Church over the centuries did. This was what Mother Teresa did. This is what many others are doing today. If we do so ourselves, then we will become counter-signs to today's idolatry of "pleasure now" or "my satisfaction now".

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