Who is the Greatest?

Mark 9: 30-37
Sir 2: 1-11 / Psalm 37

‘Whoever wants to be first must be last and servant of all.’ Then He took a little child and placed him in their midst. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the One who sent me.’
(Mark 9:35-37)

Blessed are the small and the meek,
Unlike the proud, God hears their call.
Those who serve the poor and the weak
Are for Christ the greatest of all!

They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because He was teaching His disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what He meant and were afraid to ask Him about it. They came to Capernaum. When He was in the house, He asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:30-37)


In a subtle way our Lord employed the example of a little child to chastise and teach His apostles. They were behaving like little children, quarreling among themselves about who was the greatest in their ranks. Jesus had just told them that He would be killed and after three days would rise again. (Mk.9:32) But the significance of His words could not sink into their consciousness because they were more preoccupied with status and influence as the ‘chosen disciples’ of the Messiah. In the eyes of the Lord, they were all being childish.

The apostles could not accept the idea that persecution, and not liberation was what awaited their Master in Jerusalem. Earlier, Jesus had already told them about this (Mk.8:31), but His foremost apostle, Peter, had strongly objected. They were, to say the least, bewildered. After all that their Messiah had accomplished – building up a following in the thousands, with unimaginable power at His command (even the forces of hell and nature obeyed Him) — here was Jesus talking about His downfall and ignominious death! How could He be talking like this just when greatness was almost at their fingertips? They were innocent about the true meaning of greatness.

Wrapping His arms around the child, Jesus proclaimed that true greatness lies in our willingness to serve those who are most vulnerable and most powerless, the little ones in our midst. And this is how we welcome Him and the Father (v.37). The child Jesus embraced represents the sick, the hungry, the poor and all disadvantaged people deserving of our care and mercy.

Greatness we have witnessed in times of tragedies and crises that happen all over the world. All the heroes who responded to help their victims will be greatly rewarded, for as our Lord said, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did it for me” (Mt.25:40).

Remind me Lord Jesus, whenever the little ones come to me in times of need, that it is You Who is coming to me to give me the opportunity for true greatness. Amen.

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