True Greatness Comes From Serving Others

A Franciscan, Dominican and Jesuit priests were discussing and debating the greatness of their communities while they were walking. Suddenly, an apparition of the Holy Family—Joseph, Mary and Jesus appeared in front of them. They wanted to show off the best way to acknowledge the Holy Family.

The Franciscan immediately fell on his face and adored the Holy Family with a spirit of humility. The Dominican fell on his knees and immediately chanted words of praise to the Holy Family. The Jesuit, took Joseph aside, took his arms around his shoulders and whispered to him, have you thought about where to send your son to school?

There are times we fall into the trap of bragging about ourselves.

The apostles were debating as to who among them would be the greatest and probably the most successful. Perhaps they began telling each other about their accomplishments.  Perhaps the pieces of their conversation might have gone something like this:

I healed 20 people who attended my healing services this past week.

I brought 5000 denarii in donations for our ministry.

An awful lot of people turned out to listen to the talk I gave! They gave me a huge send-off party.

Jesus heard their conversation. He reminded them that the common societal notion that status, wealth, and power make a person occupies the highest honor is wrong.  The one who looks after the needs of others is the one who becomes the first in the kingdom of God.  Jesus reiterates the value of discipleship in rejecting worldly prominence and accepting the tasks of a servant.

Jesus doesn’t reprimand His apostles. He explains to them what greatness means.  It is not a bad thing to have dreams in life and to feel great about ourselves. There is nothing wrong for anyone to dream of becoming the president of the United States, the mayor of his/her hometown or to be a doctor, a teacher, or whatever it is that a person likes to be in life.

True greatness is how to be a good president, mayor, doctor, teacher or person in general.   A person can achieve true greatness by being a servant of everybody.  If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last (Mk 9:34).

To continue the discussion, Jesus presents them with a child.  In the first century Palestinian culture,  a child is in the bottom rung of the society.  A child in this context symbolizes not so much of innocence, but the absence of social privileges and legal rights. A child is one who is powerless and is dependent on others for sustenance. A child represents those who are helpless and vulnerable.

Jesus tells us that to follow him, we must become little people embracing little people in His name. When we serve, we should not look for anything in return.  “Little people” are more certainly unable to pay back our services.

At times, we pay extraordinary care and attention to people who occupy influence in society.  It is easier for us to welcome into our homes people who are in places of prominence.  We feel great about being able to connect with them. We go out of our way to please them. We may think that we can get something in return.

Jesus tells his disciples to be servants of all. He is not saying that a poor person, a homeless person, or a lowly person, is of more value than a person of high stature. It is not about neglecting one in favor of another. All are equal.

When Jesus shows a child to His disciples, Jesus is telling them, and us, that poor and vulnerable people also deserve our time and attention just as much as someone who sits in prominent places of society.  People we think are unimportant carry the name of Jesus, and they belong to Him.

When we become servants of all, then we become great in God’s Kingdom.



Building on the Word,



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