25th Sunday in Ordinary Time - The Greatest and the Least

The story of the disciples arguing over "who is the greatest" is a wonderful lesson in humility. But it is also one of accountability. Page after page of the Gospels speak of his unwavering concern for the beggars, the widows and orphans, the homeless, the jobless, the rejected and the oppressed. But the disciples just don't seem to have a clue. We almost seem to hear them protest: "What has this to do with the kingdom of God? Tell us instead about holiness and prayer. Talk to us about salvation. Enough already about the poor!"

 They seemed to have no problem talking about their dreams and ambitions with one another; but they remained embarrassingly silent when the Lord knowingly asks about their arguing. So He takes a little child and talks of welcoming. And for Him, "welcoming" means sitting with them, putting His arms around them, caring for them, taking them as His own.

Oftentimes, the Gospels take a phrase or word of Jesus and give it a wider, more significant meaning. Such is true with the phrase "little ones" - we can take it to encompass all those who are seen as "small" or "little" in the eyes of others - the downcast of society - those without hope... the unloved - the oppressed - the forgotten. These are the "little ones" who continually surround Jesus. These were those for whom He continually cries out. These were the "little ones" whom He embraced.

Jesus' mission was always one focusing on people. His call to repentance was much more than just a turning away from sin. It was a call to conversion, a change of mind and heart. He challenges his people to look at the things around themselves differently, to change their thoughts and their images about God, and to see one another differently and act accordingly.

The disciples were too wrapped up in themselves, too concerned about status, glory, their own importance, too interested in "greatness" that they missed the point Jesus worked so hard and so often to make. Maybe they were afraid, or maybe they just didn't think Jesus was serious. So the Lord sits them down, embraces them, and reminds them that the only road to greatness is one of servitude. "If anyone wishes to be first, he must be the last of all and the servant of all."

Jesus will not let us become deaf to the cry of the poor. He will not let us forget. He confronts us and challenges us to open our eyes to the true meaning of the Gospel message.

It is this Risen Lord who lives on in the church, crying out in the name of the poor. It is that same Risen Lord who continues to warn us not to let our hunger for material wealth or status blind and deafen us to the needs of our less fortunate brothers and sisters.

If Jesus were walking the streets of our cities today, we can only begin to imagine his outrage at the conditions we seem to take for granted. He would not merely ask us to take up a collection for the poor and the homeless; he would certainly push us forward to root out the basic causes of this devastating inequality and injustice.

Salvation is an exodus experience. It is a movement from being imprisoned to being set free, from darkness to light, from fear to trust, from ignorance to understanding. It is a journey from self-concern to the humility of caring for the little children, the least of our brothers and sisters.

And this has everything to do with the Kingdom of God.