Homily: September 23

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.

Do you wish to become great?

It is difficult for us today, in a Church over-ripened by 20 good centuries of saccharine hagiography, to think of Jesus' apostles as anything but cardboard cutouts of saintly piety. They are seen by us as courageous men, fighting men, ultimately dying men, dying for the cause of the message of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. They are ideals, values, and inspirations, or so we are told.

They were also men, problematic men, difficult men, stubborn men, ambitious men, just-plain-old men. They had been called by Jesus from nets and counting houses, from saloons and salons. They had been summoned by Jesus to experience in so personal, so meaningful a way, the presence of God among us, the Word made flesh, the Splendor of the Father's love. They were brought into an inner circle, an intimate sanctum of confidentiality with God's own mind.

And, at some level, they knew this. Even in their ignorance and theological naiveté, they knew that there was something important about the mission and the Word they undertook. And so, in the midst of greatness, that is the very greatness of God himself, they had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Who was the greatest? Who would be more exalted, more famous, wealthier, more popular? They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Poor fools.

Poor fools indeed. Is it really that different with us? You have been here for a couple of days, long enough I think, to take stock of your comrades in arms. Here is one who wants to excel in the classroom so we have to hear from him in every single class. This is the hand that pops up just when the professor is powering down the PowerPoint.

This is the one who makes the most noise at meetings. This is the one who has distinguished himself in the hallway for sheer bravado. This is the one who is buying votes for some future election. This is the one who kneels piously in the chapel, always surreptitiously looking around to see who might be watching his devotions, in awe, from a distance.

Brothers and sisters, like those shadowy apostles of old, we, too, fall into the trap of questioning God, of challenging God about rank, privilege, whatever it may be. Like those old boys, we spend a good bit of time, at least internally, discussing among ourselves who is the greatest.

Thus, the Gospel today writes a decided chapter in anthropology. It tells us, in no uncertain terms,who we are and how we are. But it also tells us something else. It tells us how we might be, indeed how we must be, if we are to achieve that thing we claim that we are seeking: the key to God's Kingdom, his ways of understanding not only a tottering world, but the tottering personalities that make up a community like this, the tottering of our very souls, vacillating as weare between the Kingdom of Chaos and the Kingdom of Beatitude.

It is fortunate for those addled disciples that they are following someone as wise as Jesus. In his wisdom and in his charity, he gave them the secret for achieving what they truly wanted, not what they thought they wanted:

"If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all."

Jesus' disciples would become great, they would be immortalized, but they became great, they were made immortal, by their willingness to think in Jesus' terms and not their own.

They became great by their preaching the Gospel to every corner of the earth, of going to the poor, the needy, the outcast. They became great by their unflinching delivery of a message of the triumph of Jesus on the cross.

They became great by putting aside their worldly concerns, by leaving their home and family behind, by leaving ambition and comfort behind. They became great through sacrifice, because they knew that whatever values of fame or fortune they might have created for themselves paled in the face of the power of the Good News.

They became great by dying. They willingly stretched out their hands, offered their bodies to the unflinching angel of death, taking up the mantle of their Master Teacher, even as they laid down their mortal bodies to be consumed by the decay of the earth.

They became great by their powers of intercession, praying as they do ceaselessly before the throne of God, offering themselves still as servants willing to hear the prayers of this lost soul and this struggling disciple, stirring our pitiful petitions into flame and flinging them at the mercy seat of God.

Those disciples became great, and they are great, but not as they had imagined.

"If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all."

We, too, are called, like those crusty boys of old, to be followers of the Divine Master. How will we do it? Can you believe it, brothers and sisters, can you accept today, that our call, our greatness, our success, is dependent upon one thing: How willing are we, like those old apostles, to accept these words of Jesus:

"The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise."

How hard that is for us, seeking the yellow brick road of human success, to accept. Grace comes through destruction. The old must pass away and make way for the new; the cup of human desire must be emptied of its intoxicating contents and be filled with the new wine of slavery to God.

We are broken men, but we must explore the fissures of life and find new paths through to the other side, to glory. We are fearful men, but we must learn to swallow our fear, taking the difficult way, the way that leads through fire and ice in order to lead others down the difficult passes that we all must face.

We are heartsick men, but if we are broken-hearted, or tender-hearted, then we know one thing, we are hearted and the greatest asset of a heart is breakability. In our brokenness of heart we can tenderly reach out to those masses of hurting others, those men and women, those children, those broken priests, those tired bishops who long for peace, those victims of abuse, those abusers, those in need, to others, to everyone.

To the prideful, the arrogant and the searching, the lonely. To the forsaken and bruised, and the popular and strong. To those teetering on the sheer cliff of death, physical, mental, spiritual.

Can we walk with them? Can we walk with them precisely because we know ourselves?

There is trouble in world and in our Church, and in ourselves, but brothers and sisters, there is also a mighty call: Let us face that trouble and find in that trouble the stairway that leads us to God, forging those steps through individual acts of charity, through our care and our desire for the wholeness of others and of ourselves. Like the apostles, are we willing to think in Jesus' terms and not our own? I hope so, I know so. Strengthened by His Body and Blood, we can do all things in Him, we might even become … great.