Who is the greatest? Although we might mock the disciples for their stupidity in this week’s Gospel reading, as they argue with one another about who was the most important, or most senior, or who had more rights, aren’t these the very things that preoccupy us? We may not put it in terms of who is ‘the greatest’, but so often these are the very values that lie at the heart of our human disputes and rivalries. Jesus’ response to their behaviour is to show them another way of being, the upside-down values of the kingdom.
Everyone has an ego, even though we don’t fully understand it. The unhealthy ego drives us to compete for attention and superiority, and pits us group against group, person against person. One of the major tasks of spiritual maturity is to recognise and let go of the lies the unhealthy ego presses on us, in favour of a better way of being.
When Jesus discerns this unhealthy ego-driven competition at work amongst his disciples as they walk along the road, he takes a little child as his example and turns all their unhealthy thinking on its head. In the little child, powerless, vulnerable and unable to defend herself, Jesus tells the disciples to welcome the powerless, the vulnerable and the ones who are ignored in the world. These are the values of the Magnificat, that great song sung by Mary before Jesus’ birth, and this is the better way of living in the world.
‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ The disciples — unable to imagine the new order Jesus is bringing into being — are fighting over who will be first, and Jesus tells them who will be first: the person who doesn’t want to be, the person looked at as not having ambition, the person who shows vulnerability and servanthood rather than seeking their own glory.
So, who are the vulnerable people we need to not only care for, but see as signs of the kingdom? We are confronted regularly with images of vulnerable little children locked up on Nauru; forgotten, alienated, vulnerable and powerless. Week by week in our parish hall, we offer shelter to homeless men, who are truly the powerless, vulnerable and forgotten in our world. Although they may make us feel uncomfortable or disturb our settled world, we offer care and comfort, and speak out on their behalf because they reveal to us the Jesus-inspired way to live.
In peace Mother Lynda