Fr. Charles Irvin
Wisdom 2:12,17-20; James 3:16 – 4:3; Mark 9:30-37
“If anyone wants to rank first,” Jesus declared, “he must become the servant of all.” At first blush that sounds like a nice saying, but the more we give it some thoughtful reflection the more effort it seems to require of us. It seems to contradict common sense. How can it be that one who serves, a servant, is an important person in our world?
Lets take a closer look. Greatness (or importance, if you will) has a quality of simplicity to it, the attraction of simple, quiet and humble goodness. It’s straightforward; not complex. Little children present that quality to us… well, most of the time, when they’re not being bothersome. Their simplicity, their innocent goodness, their unabashed acceptance of others comes to mind, particularly when they are accepting of people who are somehow different from us. Additionally they are open in their willingness to learn, when they are curious about things and are teachable. These, I think, are the qualities Jesus is placing in front of those of us who aspire to importance and greatness.
The power of simple and natural goodness is irresistible. One has the power to defy any disaster or dare any danger when one is doing the will of God. Such a person will escape evil, perhaps not escape suffering, but certainly escape evil. This is the secret of the saints who have defied immense odds and have, like David, conquered Goliath with that simple little principle in living. All David had was a little slingshot, but he was doing what God wanted him to and therefore had the power to slay Goliath.
Simple, humble goodness brings with it great power. Ralph Waldo Emerson, our renowned great American essayist, philosopher, and poet who lived in the early 19th Century, had some words on this topic. Said he: “To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a little better place than we found it, whether by a healthy child, a garden path, or a redeemed social condition, to know even one life breathed easier because you lived, this is to have succeeded.”
Real humility has nothing to do with self-importance. It is the courageous ability to go on putting forth all of your time and efforts in spite of all failure. It is not necessary to be successful in order to undertake great endeavors.
Simple goodness is always to live for others and never to seek one’s own advantage at the cost of others. In the eyes of God, the simple life of a street sweeper in the Vatican is just as important as the princeliest of the Church’s Cardinals and Popes. Rank and position have little to do, then, with Christ’s ideas about being important. The most import thing is to do what God wants us to do in simplicity of heart.
So lets take a look at humble childlike qualities Jesus wants us to find in us.
Those who are childlike are unpretentious, without guile. They don’t plot, conspire, connive, or attempt to deceive. They don’t “put on airs.” They accept themselves as little… needing and wanting to learn, curious about life and about the big questions of life. They ask the question: “Why?” All children do.
The childlike are open, trusting, daring, and uninhibited in loving and in being loved; they love without an agenda. They are open to what can happen, however fanciful that may be. They dare to dream dreams, even seemingly impossible dreams. They have imagination and think beyond what is merely scientific. They see beyond what is predictable and mundane. They see more to life than just physical reality. They pay little attention to the boundaries of physical reality.
They are innocent and not burdened by guilt or shame over their past choices and actions.
The childlike treat everyone as equals, giving no special honors to anyone no matter how great they are in the eyes of adults. They are in communion with all things and want to be in communion with all people. They want to be friends with everyone.
They go to deeper levels than mere facts, information, and data; they rely on imagination and are thrilled by inspiration. The imaginative powers of children are wonders to behold.
In today’s gospel Jesus is challenging us to examine our own lives and ask ourselves, “Who have been the most important persons in our lives?” I’m going to pause here so you can take a moment and bring to mind those that have been the most important persons in your life.
Probably they were not rich and famous. Most likely they gave you what you could not give yourself. Probably they taught you important lessons, gave you important ideas and values.
Undoubtedly they unselfishly gave you their love. They gave you their time, their energy and their concern; they gave you quality time and attention. They probably sacrificed their own comfort and convenience to give you things they did not have to give you but simply wanted to give you. Most likely they corrected you when you went astray; they gave you moral norms, guidelines to develop a quality character and nobility of soul and challenged you to be a better person.
I cannot fail here to mention those who taught you how to love God, who transmitted their values to you, who mentored you by their example of Christian living, who nurtured you in the life of our Church and her Sacraments.
They were, in a word, your servants, placing before you on life’s banquet table the necessary food for your soul.
The meaning of success, then, truly is service. That’s why Jesus places a little child, the most vulnerable and the most dependent of us all, before our eyes. The true test of your life and mine is how we deal with those who are weaker than we are, more dependent than we are, more vulnerable than we are. We can ignore them, or we can devote our lives to caring for them.
That’s the choice Jesus gave to His disciples, and that’s the choice Jesus puts in front of you and me here today.