One of the great struggles in human life is the struggle for humility. This is especially true in a culture that believes that unless you are number one, you are nothing.
One of the great struggles in human life is the struggle for humility. This is especially true in a culture that believes that unless you are number one, you are nothing. In such a society where only victors are honored, and all others are considered losers, those who are not ʺpopular,ʺ those who are not ʺnumber oneʺ in anything, as the world measures such things, begin to see themselves that way. They begin to accept this false negative view of themselves. This is a terribly destructive way of thinking, both internally and externally. But Jesus gives us an entirely different perspective here, a perspective that may be as difficult for us to understand as it was for the disciples. Yet, like the disciples, though we may not quite understand his message yet, we know in faith, and in our hearts, in our consciences, that in comparison to God’s wisdom all human wisdom is foolishness.
In this passage, the disciples give us a perfect example of ourselves. When they get to the house in Capernaum, Jesus asks them what they had been arguing about on the way. We find that they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest among them. When Jesus confronts them we are told that they remain silent. We can imagine that this is because they were instinctively embarrassed. Jesus then, in order to teach them, embraces a small child and tells his disciples, ʺWhoever receives one such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.ʺ (Mk. 9:37)
The disciples have given us an example here of the potential for discord that can result from pride. Pride is the source of dissension and disharmony. It is the father of all chaos in our personal and our communal relationships. It is pride that caused the argument between the disciples. Each of them were caught up in the human desire to be more important than the other. And the result of this false argument among them was disharmony, a disharmony that is evident to Jesus in their body language and their discomfort when he asks them what they were arguing about. In our own experience, we know that when we have engaged in such arguments in the past they have escalated and inevitably turned angry and potentially destructive to the harmony of a particular relationship, or a particular community. In fact, if we looked back honestly and humbly at the things that have divided us from family, or from friends, we might see the evidence of the pride that took us there.
Human power is most often recognized through might and force, through cleverness, and is most often insensitive to the pain or destruction it causes. This kind of self-important power is always rooted in the disharmonious demands of pride and ego. But Jesus’ message here is that it is only when we have forgotten or, rather, transcended our egos, that we are able to do truly great things in the service of others. It is when we serve, not when we are served, that we are great. This is as counter-cultural a message today as it was in Jesus’ time. But its truth remains.
Jesus is teaching the disciples (and us) a very important lesson. He is teaching us that humility is the source of harmony, that humility is the balm that can prevent, or heal all divisions. Humility is the real power, indeed, the only power worthy of those who understand that true and worthy leadership is seen in the acts of service, not in arbitrary powers of any kind. Humility is the parent, then, of all harmony. And just as in music, harmony makes for beautiful sound, so the harmony that results from humble service, makes for the sweet resonance of healthy communities, healthy families, and healthy nations. Indeed, humility is the virtue of heaven, while pride is the vice of hell, the source of all disharmony and discord in this world. It is our humility that will make us truly great.
Let us pray, then, for the virtue of humility in ourselves and in our leaders. Let us pray for the understanding to see the wisdom of the Lord, that it is in our serving of others that we become great. Pray that God will give this grace to our pastors, to our political leaders, and to us in our own lives, within our own families. Amen.SKM: below-content placeholder