Sunday, December 12, 2010

Greatness is Relative

Who do you think is the greatest person living today? I imagine that responses to this question would be as varied as colors you will find in a paint store. Everyone would have a different idea of what constitutes greatness. Some would think of athletes, others world leaders, others religious figures, others friends or family members. One of the things that can happen when we consider who is "great" is that we may become depressed, especially when we look at our own lives next to theirs.
In today's gospel, Jesus identifies the greatest person who had ever lived up to that time "(among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist"). His admiration of John is amazing, and I wonder what John must have thought if he heard reports of this comment. Imagine, the Son of God saying that you were the greatest human being ever born!
Ah, but Jesus did not stop there. He continued his reflection with the pronouncement that "the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Definitely puts things into perspective! Even though it might seem to be a put-down, it is really a wonderfully hopeful statement. It means that each and every human being, no matter what their station in life, can become greater that the greatest person in this world. You and I, even if no one seems to pay much attention to us, has the raw material to become great. The question is, how much effort will we put into it? All of those who are recognized as great athletes, world leaders, religious figures, etc. have put in a lot of work to get where they are. It takes years of tremendous effort and sacrifice to become great. If we have the possibility of becoming great in the kingdom of heaven, we must also expect to work at it.
What sort of work should we expect to do? Jesus also provides the answer to this. "Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?' And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'" (Matthew 25:34-40).
This, then, is our strategy for greatness. Are you ready to implement it? How much do you want to enter the kingdom of heaven?

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