In today’s Gospel Jesus says: “whoever wants to be first must be last of all and the servant of all.” This statement of Jesus is indeed a puzzling one for us like several of the utterances he places before the disciples. They all go against the call of the world such as to be held in esteem, to have the power and to bask in honor and glory. Jesus calls us to serve, to remain humble and to be at the disposal of God and others. However these statements invite us into God’s life in a particular way. The early Christian hymn in the letter to the Philippians talks about how Jesus emptied himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. In response God exalted him and raised him above all creation. This hymn describes the dynamic that is at the heart of life in the trinity: each person of God is constantly pouring out the divine self in love and service to the other persons. Each person is welcoming the other and makes room for the other in the outpouring of love. Even in our life as Christians we are incorporated in the self-emptying life of love of God in Baptism. We are part of that dynamics and yet we have to make effort in the self-emptying call that Jesus gives us constantly where we are to lose our life in order to find it. Only when we empty ourselves can we really go ahead to the Trinity and move towards the fullness of the glory of God.
All the three Readings of the day have one common denominator: They all speak of wisdom that is divine and the human expectations demanding to excel over others. In our normal life situations there is a paradox of human living, namely, the hatred that the good person engenders. It is put so well in the First Reading: “Let us lie in wait for the virtuous man.” Why? “Because he annoys us and opposes our way of life, reproaches us for our breaches of the law and accuses us of playing false to our upbringing.” Jesus annoyed many people, because he opposed their way of life and of being false to the real meaning of their traditions, of worshipping only with their lips but with hearts far from God. “Let us see if what he says is true, let us observe what kind of end he himself will have. If the virtuous man is God’s son, God will take his part and rescue him from the clutches of his enemies.” They want to make the life of the righteous persons intolerable and more difficult. They want to make the lives of just very inconvenient, oppose their actions and reproach them of their sins against the law and thus condemn them to a shameful death. While he hung on the cross they mocked him. “If you really are the Son of God, come down and then we will believe!” But something they failed to realize. While the godless ones applied human wisdom in the planning of their evil deeds, they failed to notice that human knowledge and understanding cannot compete against the Wisdom of God.
Jesus willingly accepted the sufferings and humiliations for our sake. His gentleness and endurance and his love for us were proved beyond doubt. And he was looked after though not in the way they anticipated. He was allowed to drink the cup of suffering to the very dregs, dying a most awful death. But that moment of final surrender into the Father’s hands – “Into your hands I surrender my life” and “It is finished” – was the moment of glory, the moment of exaltation, of being lifted up to the right hand of the Father, leading the way for us to follow. The history of the church proves that many of them will follow in his footsteps and be themselves the victims of hatred and recrimination.
Jesus was trying to teach and make the disciples understand the cost of true discipleship they seemed to be more in tune with the worldly values and concerns. So while they were in the “house” he asked them about their topic of conversation of which they were highly embarrassed, because they were arguing among themselves who was the greatest. Jesus was fully aware of all that was going on in their minds. He sat down and spoke just to the Twelve, his close friends and told them the type of leadership his followers ought to have. “If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.” Once again he throws an idea at them, which is in total contradiction to everything they had ever been told. The type of authority will be of a new type, never experienced by any one. The authority in his house has to be one of giving and of service. At this point Jesus pulls in a young child and puts him standing in the middle of the group. “Anyone who welcomes one of these children in my name, welcomes me.”
The child here pictured by Jesus represents a person who has no power, no say, no influence; a person who can easily be controlled, abused or neglected and who has little redress. At the same time, a child has novelty and vision. It sees all things afresh. It has the sense of joy and admiration. It loves without reservation. Above all it is humble, helpless and very vulnerable. The child represents all those in our society; who are powerless and easily manipulated, who are easily abused, neglected and marginalized. The poor, the sick, the disabled, the elderly, the immigrant…Today, in the light of all our readings, we need to pray above all for that spirit of service, for that deep down attitude of reaching out and wanting the well being of those around us, no matter who they are or what kind of people they are. It is a prayer that will bring us closer to God and to every other person and result in our own enrichment. Let us call upon the Lord Almighty, asking Him with a sincerity of heart for the gift of Wisdom.