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MONDAY HOMILY: Who is the Greatest?

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An argument arose among the disciples about which of them was the greatest.

We do well to remember the fundamental "wildness" of Christianity.

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SUGAR LAND, TX (Catholic Online) -  Jesus' public ministry is a schooling ground for his disciples.  Just as a seminarian might spend a year doing pastoral work at the direction of the parish priest, in preparation for his own ordination, so the Lord give his closest collaborators a type of on-the-job training.  In the Gospel of today's Mass (Luke 9:46-50) Jesus identifies two attitudes of the mind and heart that are obstacles to true discipleship.

"An argument arose among the disciples about which of them was the greatest." (Luke 9:46).

We can be sure that the disciples were not debating their relative levels of holiness, virtue, or faithfulness.  They were looking to claim the spoils of what they imagined would come to Jesus when he established his Kingdom.  This quarrel is a stark reminder that even among good- and well-intentioned people, the temptation of pride and covetousness is always present.

How many times do we measure success according to the standards of power, wealth or physical attributes?  Our culture extolls these qualities as if they were the only things that mattered for human flourishing.  Thankfully, the gift of faith opens our eyes to the truth of this deception. 

"Jesus realized the intention of their hearts and took a child and placed it by his side and said to them, 'Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest'" (Luke 9:47-48).

During the Last Supper, Jesus would amplify his teaching on spiritual greatness. This quality is found not only in simplicity of heart (like that of a child), but also in service to our neighbor.  During the Passover meal, the disciples were again quarreling about who was the greatest.  Jesus cuts short their debate, saying, "let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. I am among you as one who serves" (Luke 22:26, 27).

We are grateful that Jesus is so patient with the apostles.  Despite their human defects, the Lord still loves them and never gives up on them.  Whenever we feel as though God must be tired of us because of our recalcitrance, stubbornness, or moral or spiritual blindness, these Gospel scenes can serve as an important corrective.  God desires our salvation, and will always give us the grace we need to follow him.

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After clarifying the matter of misguided ambition and desire for power, Jesus addresses another obstacle to discipleship.  John complained that someone who was not of their inner circle was working miracles in Jesus' name.  Perhaps this man represented a sort of "unregulated Christianity" that seemed messy and hard to control.

Was John trying to "domesticate" Christ and his Gospel?  Was he trying to fit it into neat, pre-existing categories?  That may be too harsh.  Perhaps this was simply an example of jealousy.  In any case, we do well to remember the fundamental "wildness" of Christianity.

The Christian faith turns the world on its head, and pushes us to see beyond the limits of our merely human perception.  Asked what he hoped to see as a result of the latest World Youth Day, Pope Francis famously replied, "I hope for a mess. that we defend ourselves from comfort."  Jealousy and ambition truncate the power of Christianity.  We must leave those false values behind if we are to be open to the intensity of faith in Jesus.

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Fr. Stephen B. Reynolds is the Pastor of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Sugar Land, Texas. You are invited to visit them on the Web at: www.SugarLandCatholic.com.

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