Who’s The Greatest?Fr. Barnabas Powell
There is a line in Shakespeare’s Hamlet that I have always loved. It comes in Act 1, scene 5: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
It’s such a wonderful encounter in the play, and it serves as a wonderful illustration of the necessary humility that we all must embrace when it comes to our own intellect and our so-called “rational” mind. There really are limits to our understanding of this vast and wonder-filled universe of ours.
And this necessary humility extends its wisdom into every aspect of our lives, calling us to temper our thoughts, words, and actions with the humility of our own limitations. Now this humility doesn’t discard conviction, but it does educate conviction to stand on solid ground and not on the whim of this or that opinion. In fact, this humility calls us to see our conviction in service and love rather than mastery and authority. It turns out our Lord Jesus was right when He taught His disciples that true authority rests in service to others, not in being served.
Look at our Gospel Lesson today in Mark 9:33-41:
At that time, Jesus and his disciples came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they were silent; for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” John said to him, “Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward.”
Here our Lord Jesus confronts His disciples as they were discussing among themselves who was the greatest among them. It is interesting that when the Lord confronted the disciples about what they were discussing, they were reluctant to tell Him. As an aside, when you get embarrassed about what you were talking about with another, that is a sure sign that you probably shouldn’t have been saying those things!
Jesus uses this moment of embarrassment of the disciples and their shameless talk of “who is the greatest” to teach them about real authority and real power. He takes a small child (tradition says this child was a man who would one day be a great saint – Ignatius) and sits him on His knee and says the humble person receives an amazing Gift! When humility sets you free to be a true servant you receive much more than you might realize in the moment. You receive not only the wisdom and insight that humility brings, but you also receive the Lord Himself. But that’s isn’t all. You also receive the Father Who sent Christ as well. You receive the fullness of God because you’ve made room for Him in your heart!
Think about it. This insight into the power of humility sets you free to receive what you could never hope to receive by demanding your “rights.” Or asserting your “authority” over someone else. The bounty of humility enlarges your soul to hold all the blessings and joys of the All-Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Imagine your soul so enlarged to hold the entire universe! Who in their right mind would trade these blessings for mere power?
Today let us abandon the insanity of mere power for the deep and eternal wisdom of humility. And as we approach the Feast of the Nativity where God Himself displayed this humility to all creation by making Himself small enough to fit in a manger, let us wisely flee from the foolish slavery of mere authority and embrace with joy the unmeasured Love our God has for us in coming to us as a Child to reverse the sickness of the whole human race. Let’s be Orthodox on Purpose.
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