Grace to you!
It wouldn’t be a bad idea to reflect on how to be great during this Lent. If greatness is to be seen as being the best version of ourselves, wouldn’t it be worthwhile finding how to do so?
In the Gospel of Matthew 20:17-18, Jesus offers two principles of greatness that may shock many. Here is the text: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28).
“Wait a minute,” someone may argue. “Does Jesus want us to become slaves? We fought hard to abolish slavery, that heinous and terrible moment in human history, and the scars have not left us; what is he talking about?”
The word “slave” is a trigger word; and a reflexive rejection of the line used above is understandable. However, Jesus’ word has a deeper meaning than at face value, as I will show later.
Two related principles to true greatness are proposed by the Lord. The first is: To be great, “You have to be a servant.” Simply, Jesus is saying what many in leadership and business schools have only recently (since 1980s) come to extol – namely, servant leadership. He also extends this principle to yet another.
I want you to pay particular attention to this second principle. It’s actually the bone of contention among many because of the use of the word “slave.” Jesus proposes: Whoever would want to be first, not simply the greatest, must be slave to others (cf. Mt 20:27). The Greek word used here is δοῦλος (pronounced doulos), which literately means, “bond-slave.”
The meaning of the word, which here should be seen as an imagery, isn’t an endorsement by Jesus of slavery, but rather a pointer to the significance of the loyalty of a bond-slave during the time of Jesus. One could say that no one was as loyal to his master as a bond-slave. So, Jesus is appealing to that loyalty; being loyal to the service of God and our neighbor. The last time I checked, the greatest achievers in worldly affairs are very loyal to their cause, most of which are people-service-oriented; even so for saints who are thrilled by heavenly beatitudes.
“I am third,” a famous line (also a book made into a movie) by Gale Sayer, acclaimed as the greatest running back in American NFL history, underscores this principle of greatness. God first. Others second. I am third. Brilliant!
We could, as well, extend the idea from simple service to service for life. It is this aspect, depth of spiritual commitment, that people like Saint Louis Maria de Montfort, a French spiritual writer, wrote about in his book--True Devotion to Mary. I would recommend this book for our Lenten reading.
Pray: Lord Jesus Christ, may we discover that it is through service we achieve true greatness. Amen
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Wednesday, Lenten Weekday, Week 2: Jer 18:18-20; Mt 20: 17-28]
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.