"`If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.’" Taking a child, he placed it in the their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, `Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.’" (Mark 9:35-37)
This morning when I woke up, I received a message from my old spiritual director that read: “I wish you to meet Christ in your littleness in your vulnerable self.” Now before I had read that message, I had been pondering in my head today’s readings especially the part about being the “last of all.” This is something that is so difficult for us to grasp because we live in a world where being the greatest and being the best is glorified. But yet we look up and behold Christ in his glory on the cross when he was most vulnerable, when he had become literally the last and servant of all.
For the second time in as many weeks, Jesus predicts/announces his passion and once again, the disciples fail to understand what he was talking about. Instead, they start arguing about who will be the greatest. After all, if the Lord isn’t going to be there, one of them had to be first, right? It seems like the fight for power has been around as long as humans have. All we see on our TV’s these days are two men looking for power in our country (yes, I know that was severely understated), and even in our work and school environments there are always people looking to grab power, to place themselves on top, and to sometimes lord this power over others. Jesus reminds the disciples that it should not be this way with them, for if they truly want to be the greatest, they have to be last and servants of all.
“I wish you to meet Christ in your littleness in your vulnerable self.” I have spent most of my day, through prayer, through the chaos of a football game, and in the quiet moments in between, mulling over this message from a wise friend. Where do we encounter Christ? Last week, Jesus spoke of denying one’s self to follow him. When we strip ourselves of our vanity, pride, selfishness, and ego, what are we left with? When we meet Christ in our vulnerable selves, we have become the least of all, and now we are open to receive the blessings that he wishes to bestow upon us. This is where we genuinely meet him. He wishes us not to strive for power, for true greatness is found in putting ourselves last and serving others. We encounter him in the anowim: the little ones of God. That is why he placed a child in the midst of the disciples. A child personifies our littleness and our vulnerable self because a child in Jesus’ time was the most vulnerable of all. We have to become like children to fully embrace and understand Christ, for it is only the innocence of a child that fully understands who Jesus really is: greater and more powerful than any of us. Children do not have the delusions of grandeur that we have that we can get through life on our own. They are fully aware that they depend on their parents, their teachers, and “big people.” When we realize that we must approach God in the same way, then we have taken a gigantic leap in our spiritual life. It is in receiving these little ones of God: the poor, the sick, the outcasts, and the children, that we receive God himself. Once again, our Lord calls us to deny ourselves, to not think of the things of this world, but to simply become “little” in order to encounter Him and to better serve our brothers and sisters in Christ.