The True Nature of Greatness

One of the most consistent themes that runs throughout the Gospels is the theology of reversal. We hear it enunciated clearly in today’s Gospel passage: “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted."

The art of self-promotion is a much practiced and integral part of the cultural life of the Western World. We have been taught from early on that we need to "be all that we can be," that the "gold medal" is the only prize worth speaking about, that we have to be the best there is in our field. Everybody and everything is either awesome or amazing in our modern parlance. If it isn't, it isn't worth speaking about.

So when Jesus asks us to humble ourselves, when he asks us to serve rather than be served, when St. Paul counsels us to humbly regard others as more important than ourselves, (Philippians 2:3b), we find ourselves struggling with the notion that the path to greatness is found in promoting the other rather than ourselves. Superlative adjectives are the mainstay of our self-concept. Ever since Muhammad Ali proclaimed himself "the greatest," we have been striving to acquire the same description of ourselves.

The life of Jesus, from beginning to end, is a testament to the fact that true greatness lies in humility and service of others. He who had the rightful claim to being the "greatest" became the least for our sakes. Perhaps some of the spiritual spring cleaning in which we need to engage is simply a matter of cleaning the need for superlatives out of our spiritual closets. Many of the greatly admired saints gained their status by taking the "low" road rather than the "high." While the rest of the world is vying for a plaque in the various halls of fame that dot our geography, Jesus and the saints remind us that there is only one Hall of Fame that really matters, and that the ticket to inclusion in that pantheon is humble service of others.

Fr, Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator


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