Are we so different from the disciples, arguing over who was the greatest? Don’t we too have a desire to be number one, to be better than everyone else? Don’t we too have those same “me-first” attitudes that lead us to cheat and lie, to slander others, to politick and play games, to do whatever it takes to get ahead, to get what we want, even calling our selfishness “ambition” and pretending it’s a virtue? Just look at some of the election commercials!

But before we travel down that path I want us to begin with Jesus’ statement from last Sunday’s gospel: “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” This takes us to the very heart of the challenge of discipleship. Somehow they, and we, must come to see our calling as disciples from God’s point of view and not from our own worldly, ego-driven understandings.

I know, personally, that finding this new point of view is as difficult for us as it was for the disciples. We are offered multiple opportunities for ego driven experiences in our lifetime. I have trophies and coffee mugs that say I’m the greatest teacher, greatest dad, and greatest grandpa. Self-importance will not be accepted, not from the twelve and not from you and not from me.
There is also a tendency to elevate those who give leadership within the church, but again we must learn here the lesson from Jesus that the real position of leadership and the real position for a leader is to become a servant instead.

From my own personal perspective, the idea of the position of the deacon actually means to serve the LORD by serving the church. Be sure to notice the order here, which is very important. Ministers do not serve the church; they serve the LORD by fulfilling the vocational calling given to them by Christ to help and uplift and encourage the church.

But, let’s be clear. Even as we apply Jesus’ teaching on servant-leadership to deacons, we are surely not just describing pastors or deacons are we? No, we are characterizing how all members of the church are to minister. That is, what must be true of the vocationally called priests, deacons, and religious should be true of all who name the name of Christ. When Jesus says: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” He is depicting for all his followers to follow what is essentially a description of his own life-pattern, or what I call the Jesus-way.

Jesus daily lived-out the lowliness of the heart found in the servant. We will see this no more better portrayed than him in the upper room washing the disciple’s feet even as he offers the new covenant meal; and later hanging on the cross, offering himself for the defeat of death, darkness and the rule of ego — the self-life — which He so decisively reviled in today’s text.
For these attitudes and actions that put ourselves ahead of others we deserve the shame and the torment that Jesus willingly endured. But we won’t ever face it because of the cross. Jesus humbled himself for us. He died for every selfish desire we’ve ever had to be number one, to be better than everyone else. He died to pay for our “me-first” attitudes and times we’ve played “I’m greater than you.”

And the resurrection is our proof. Jesus rose again victorious, having conquered Satan, sin, death and hell… for us!  That’s what makes Jesus truly great! As John pointed out, “Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends.”   This is what makes Jesus greater than any other religious leader. He didn’t just teach the way to salvation he became the way to salvation.
William Shakespeare once wrote this famous saying on greatness: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” We aren’t born great, but steeped in sin. On our own we can never become great enough for God. But we’ve been given greatness by our Savior, who took away our every sin so we’re not only great, but perfect in God’s sight. Greatness has been thrust upon us by God’s grace!

We’re great, not because we have intelligence or talent, fame or money or a nice car; not because we do great things or make great changes in society, nor because we’re so great toward God. But we’re great because of what Jesus did—taking our every sin away on the cross. Keep your focus on the cross and you are truly great!

That is what it means to be great. True greatness is found in serving. True greatness is seeking nothing in return. We serve others, not to get something out of them (that’s manipulation), but simply out of love—love for each other and especially love for our Savior. When you serve someone without any thought of getting something in return, Jesus views it as a personal favor to him and a favour to God.

When you serve without any thought of repayment, then you will be great! So make yourself first… the first to offer to do the dishes, the first to say “I’m sorry,” the first to sign to up to volunteer, the first to change the diaper, not looking to get anything for it, but only to say “thanks” to Jesus who, didn’t “come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Be the first to share the message of his greatness with others to thank him for making you sinless — for making you truly great! Then, even though you may not have the most money, the most power, or the most brains, thought you may never be featured in Time or in any magazine, by humbly serving others in thanks to Jesus, you will truly be great!

-Dcn. Terry Murphy

Category Homilies