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We’re children

In today’s gospel, Jesus speaks of his passion, death and resurrection for the second time. Again, the apostles fail to grasp the meaning and gravity of his words. It may also be that they are reluctant, if not unwilling, to accept Jesus’ message because it contradicts and frustrates their own expectations. That is why even in their lack of understanding, they do not dare to ask Jesus, lest he reveals more plainly what they dread to hear. They would rather hold on to their traditional idea of the Messiah and hope to take their coveted place once the new kingdom is established in Jerusalem.

And so, when Jesus inquires what they were discussing on the road, they guiltily remain silent for they were arguing who was the greatest among them. They were positioning themselves and jockeying for power and prestige in the coming messianic kingdom.

In the second reading, St. James speaks of the destructive consequences of ambition. He says that “where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.” We see this today in politics, business, communities, families and even in our personal relationships. Those who seek power resort to all means, as they buy their way to gain it and destroy those who stand in the way. Likewise, those who are in power hold on tenaciously, using the very power (meant to serve the people) to preserve themselves at all cost and without scruples. Hence, we read daily in the papers of unprecedented levels of corruption, manipulation of truth, suppression of freedom, threats and intimidation…

Sadly, this phenomenon is not new to us; it has been there in all levels of our social fabric. We are familiar with our Filipino brand of the “crab mentality,” the “tsismis” subculture, the tyranny of trolling, the ugly community and family feuds, etc.

As the apostles entertain wishful thoughts of greatness, Jesus intervenes, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Their idea of greatness totally differs from that of Jesus. Earlier, Jesus pointed out to Peter (last Sunday’s gospel), “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Indeed, God’s logic is different from ours. We operate on a different wavelength from his. That is why to follow Jesus we need conversion, a profound change in our manner of thinking and living. Where does our difference with God lie?

Commenting on this gospel passage, Pope Benedict gives an interesting insight: “A key point in which God and man differ is pride: in God there is no pride, for he is wholly fullness and is wholly oriented to loving and giving life; instead in us, human beings, pride is deeply rooted and requires constant vigilance and purification. We, who are small, aspire to appear great, to be among the first, whereas God who is truly great is not afraid of humbling himself and putting himself last.”

To drive home the point, Jesus places a child in the midst of the apostles and putting his arms around him, tells them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”

In Jesus’ time, the child has no status. He is a nobody, a social non-entity, until he becomes an adult. And so, when Jesus identifies himself with the child, the lowest member of society, he affirms the inestimable value of every human life and the supreme dignity of every person, no matter the age, status, race or achievement. And by hugging the child in their presence, Jesus expresses more powerfully than by words how precious we all are to him, including the littlest and the most insignificant.

Finally, Jesus tells us that the mark of true greatness in his kingdom is humble service. This is also the ultimate call of discipleship. Not all who follow Jesus will necessarily end their lives on the cross, but every disciple is called to pour out his life in service of all, especially the least.

I love that part of the song, “People,” where Barbra Streisand sings: “We’re children, needing other children, and yet letting our grown-up pride hide all the need inside, acting more like children than children.”

In God’s eyes we are all children. That is why his kingdom is only for children. “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 18:3) Now you understand why the apostles remain awkwardly silent when asked about their discussion on the road. They realize that because of ambition they have become petty and pathetic, “acting more like children than children.”*

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