Whoever Wishes to be Great

(Homily for Twenty-Ninth Ordinary Sunday, Year B)

Bottom line: True greatness requires a man to become small - to put himself on the same level as the "little ones" - in order to bring out the potential of the other, especially the child. Like a servant, he sacrifices his own comfort.

This Sunday Jesus addresses those who wish to be great And do not all of us (even the most indolent among us) have some desire for greatness?* We wonder what it would be like to be a great doctor, a great teacher, a great scholar, a great singer or a great pastor.

We all fantasize about greatness, but very few make the sacrifice to achieve it. Jesus spells out the price: not puffing oneself up, but by accepting some deflation. Not by talking about oneself, but by listening to the other person. Not by using others, but by allowing oneself to be used. In a word, by becoming a servant.

St. Martin de Porres illustrates Jesus' path to greatness. Last Sunday I mentioned the prophecy given to the boy Martin: that he would become the greatest man in Peru. The prediction came true in a surprising way. St. Martin did not construct a magnificent building. He did not discover the cure to a disease. He did not write a novel or carve a statue. The symbol for St. Martin, rather, is a broom. In Peru (and throughout the world) his devotees keep a tiny broom in their wallet. Martin achieved greatness by taking the humblest roles.

Jesus in effect redefines greatness. A man does not become great by making a million dollars. He does it by spending time with those the world considers little, especially with children. True greatness involves fatherhood, spiritual fatherhood - bringing out the potential in a child or by extension, in an adult.**

"Whoever wishes to be great," says Jesus, "will be your servant." True greatness requires a man to become small - to put himself on the same level as the "little ones"*** - in order to bring out the potential of the other, especially the child.**** Like a servant, he sacrifices his own comfort.

This Sunday Jesus asks if you wish true greatness. Please do not say, "Oh, I am happy just as I am." That is a lie: 1) You are not happy. 2) Someone - or more likely someone's - depend on you to unlock their power. The world desperately needs spiritual fathers (and mothers). That true greatness means to become small, to become the servant of others.

************

*The desire is God-given. It distinguishes us from all other animals. As C.S. Lewis observed, "no animal is ambitious." Of course, the devil can twist any human desire into something horribly destructive, but that does not negate the goodness of the basic impulse.

**As a recent Nobel prize winner observed, fatherhood does not end with conception.

***This is true even in relating to animals. Cesar Millan (the "dog whisperer") has made millions by helping people to stop projecting their own emotions and foibles on their pets and to see things from the dog's point of view.

****Intellectually and morally, the servant can be superior to the one served. P.G. Wodehouse illustrates this brilliantly in his Jeeves and Wooster stories.

General Intercessions for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (from Priests for Life)

Spanish Version

From Archives (Homilies for 29th Sunday, Year B):

2012: St. Kateri, Pray For Us
2009: Whoever Wishes to be Great
2006: Vaulting Ambition
2003: Victims of Envy
2000: The Problem of Envy - And Jesus' Solution
Also: Serious Concerns (Terri Schiavo)

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

St. Mary of the Valley Album

(September 2009)

Pictures from Peru

(October 2009)

Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

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