In the Gospel reading for this Sunday we are hearing the apostles having a conversation about who is the greatest among them. At times it may happen to us in our daily lives that a feeling such as this may happen. Jesus doesn’t rebuke or chide them. He simply, as the One who is meek and humble of heart shows them the better way to holiness.
This is a meditation on this Gospel from one of my sisters:
“If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
This beloved Gospel scene of Jesus welcoming and embracing a child has been portrayed in stained glass and paintings for centuries. It is so popular that we may miss its powerful message that forever changed our understanding of service. Immediately before this Gospel scene, Jesus tells the apostles for a second time that he will suffer, die, and rise. Shortly after, on their way to Capernaum, the group begins discussing which of them is the greatest. The apostles are clearly not immune to competition!
The Gospel writer tells us that Jesus then sits down and calls the Twelve together. The Master uses this incident as an occasion to teach them. The detail that Jesus sits down is important. To teach from a sitting position symbolizes that Jesus is speaking from his authority as Teacher and Lord. Each year we are reminded of this in our liturgy when we celebrate the Chair of Saint Peter, the “chair” that symbolizes the teaching authority of the apostle whom Jesus chose to serve as the visible head of the Church.
In Jesus’ time, children and servants had no legal status or rights; they were considered unimportant. A free man would consider it unbecoming to serve or to do the duties of a servant or a woman. Jesus turns the standard of greatness and service upside down. His disciples are called to serve the poor and all those who cannot repay. Jesus’ action of placing a child in the apostles’ midst and embracing the little one is the answer to their question about greatness. To receive and to serve those who are weak, defenseless, and without worldly status is to show respect for each person’s human dignity, and to receive Jesus and the Father. Jesus revealed his greatness in his humble acceptance of his passion and death and his service to all. For a disciple of Jesus, greatness lies not in domination but in openhearted service.
If you have enjoyed this meditation, you’ll find meditations on all the Gospels in the Ordinary Grace series: Ordinary Grace Weeks 18-34