They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. For they had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” ~Mark 9:33-37
I work at a great school, surrounded by young men of incredible physical and intellectual ability, discipline, character, and integrity. Palma is truly an amazing place. These young men are definitely going places! They are heading off to D1 schools for sports, to UC’s for their academic and social excellence, and are widely recognized as the future leaders of Salinas and the larger community. These are young men who aspire to greatness in all endeavors–intellectually, socially, physically, and Spiritually. It is my pleasure to be around these fine young men all day. These young men are truly exceptional, and worthy of praise, but my work with them is to help them not to be successful (which the will no doubt be) but great. Greatness is the requirement to enter into the kingdom of God, to receive Jesus, and to be received by God the Father. Excellence in the world is admirable, but greatness in the Kingdom must be our fundamental concern.
I think it can be quite easy to get caught up in the things of the world, in greatness according to societal standards. For many, success is measured by how much one makes and how much influence or education one has. Jesus’ own apostles, who were hand-picked by Him, who spent day and night with Him, watched Him forgive, feed, heal, and serve others were still arguing about who was the greatest among them. Did they learn NOTHING from Him? Why is it that so often feeding our own ego becomes our main priority? We live in a world that teaches us to beat our chest and say, “look at me!” We see ourselves only in relation to others. Their success somehow means my failure! Their fortune means my misfortune. Each of us must decide what type of person we want to be. Will we be those that walk into a room and say, “Look! I’m here!” or will we be those who walk into a room and say, “Hey, look who’s here!” There is not place in the Kingdom of God for bumper stickers that read, “It’s hard to be humble when you’re this darn good!” or to step on others to achieve our success. Jesus calls us to something greater. He says that those who are first, must be willing to be last. He says that the servant of all is the one who will enter the Kingdom first.
What does this look like practically speaking? How does one live this out day to day? Let me first admit, that I am with you on this journey to true humility. In a me-centered world, there is very little recognition of others’ greatness. So often I feel unappreciated and undervalued. I work long, hard hours and wonder if anyone notices my sacrifice. And the less we make others aware of how much we appreciate them, the more our society becomes filled with people who, like me, wonder if anyone is listening or if anyone cares. And in our me-centeredness, in our own darkness and need, we too often fail to appreciate and give praise for the amazing gifts, accomplishments, and contributions of others.
My good friend and co-worker, Jim Micheletti, honors the contribution of others more than any person I know. He is always quick to compliment, quick to congratulate, quick to sing praise, and is always there to stand in solidarity with those who suffer most. He exemplifies the servant leadership Jesus is calling His disciples to. His coworkers and students are never in doubt of their effort, of their accomplishments, or their value–in spite of their weaknesses and failures. His students leave class and the chapel glowing with pride at their job well done. He showers praise on them (not lies or half truths), and they become acutely aware of their dignity and the dignity of others. And when one’s cup is full and runs over, he shares his abundance with others around him. In other words, people who are empty seek to be filled. People who are full, share what they have with others. And that’s a beautiful gift that brings us one step closer to the Kingdom of God. We might even come to appreciate the truth that the Kingdom is indeed among us.
The Lord Jesus took a child, placed it before his Apostles and told them that whoever receives a child such as that in His name, receives Him. I think each of us is called to embrace not just children, but also the child in all people. Children love to be loved. They are tender and clearly in need of compliments, affirmation, and encouragement. They are easily discouraged and we much treat them with tenderness and compassion. Each of us still has that child within. Each of us wants to be loved, complimented, encouraged and affirmed. We must be among those who have NOT become hardened by the world and accept the world’s standard of greatness. St. Paul challenged the church at Rome, “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (12:2). If we wish to be great, we must recognize our dignity, recognize the child in others, and like my friend Jim, be willing to pour out the adulation, compliments, love, and goodness upon all those we meet; at the grocery store, in our workplaces, in our families, in our world. We must be willing to make ourselves the servant of all if we ever desire to be first in the Kingdom. Know this, the Kingdom of God is indeed at hand, but are you aware of it, and helping others to be aware of it too? Who is the person in your life who exemplifies the humble servant and loves others? Would others say it was you?