True Greatness

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“Truly, I say to you, whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4).

What does it mean to be great? In yesterday’s Gospel passage we saw how Jesus instructed Peter to go to the sea and take out a shekel from the mouth of a fish to pay the temple tax. According to St. Jerome, this action of Jesus sparked off a debate among the disciples of Jesus who felt that Jesus gave Peter a form of preferential treatment by asking him to pay their taxes with the same coin.

A discussion soon arose among His disciples as to who was the greatest in the kingdom of God so they asked Jesus. Origen would say, we must learn from this action of the disciples to always ask questions when we are in doubt. To the surprise of the disciples, Jesus did not mention any particular name or person instead, He proffers a new definition of greatness.

Jesus brought a child before the disciples and said: “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven, whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” In other words, our measure of greatness in heaven will be according to the measure of our child-like humility on earth.

There is something in every human being called the “ego.” It is a strong desire to assert oneself over others. From the compulsive desire to win in an argument for instance to the feeling of being better than others in one way or another. The ego is very fragile and sees itself always under threat so it constantly seeks to compete with others and put them down.

To see the ego at work, go to any busy street or market place, watch how people so flare up at one another just to assert themselves as greater than others. Go to our streets and watch how people drive as if they are on a racing competition ready to throw out insults at others at the slightest whim. The ego is what makes you think you would feel better if you are ahead of others.

Have I been guilty of such behaviours? Jesus says to me today: “Be humble like a child; seek to love others rather than exercise power over them.” St. Hilary of Poiters would clarify that by infant, Jesus was not talking about little children (by age), but persons who have faith and love in their hearts; persons who “know not how to will that which is evil, do not bear hate or speak lies, trust what is told them, believe what they hear to be true.”

According to the great thinker, Ekhart Tolle, “power over others is weakness disguised as strength. True power is within; it is the ability to control one’s ego.” He is truly powerful who is able to control himself or herself. Humility is not weakness, it is wisdom. Being child-like is the greatest assert a Christian should seek to acquire. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Mathew 5:5).

In today’s first reading, Joshua takes over the mantle of leadership from Moses. In his handover note, Moses told Joshua: “Be strong and of good courage… it is the Lord who goes before you; he will be with you, he will not fail you or forsake you; do not fear or be dismayed” (Deut. 31:7-8).

This sound advice which made Joshua successful remains relevant even today. Have strong faith in God, do not be afraid of what anyone can do to you and God will not forsake you.

The difference between a proud person and a humble person is that while the proud person trusts in himself (and his own abilities), the humble person trusts completely in God like a child who has absolute faith in his parent’s ability to protect him or her. While the proud person seeks to promote himself, the humble person seeks out ways to promote the greatness of God.

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, teach me Lord, to exercise strength over my ego that I may be like one of these little ones who will be welcomed into your kingdom, Amen.

Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu