If no spoken or written words of St. Teresa of Kolkata were ever recorded, the holy woman would still be a canonized saint of the church. For her saintly actions spoke louder than any of her words. She embraced the outcast leper; sheltered the homeless, dying man abandoned on the street; loved the orphaned, hungry, destitute child; and infused hope in marginalized, despairing hearts.
Even as she was recognized with many high honors, such as the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, and other prestigious awards of international acclaim, she remained close to the poorest of the poor in a life of selfless, loving service. Her love of and closeness to the poor, in imitation of Jesus, was her path to greatness.
In accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Mother Teresa said these powerful words, “I am grateful and I am very happy to receive it in the name of the hungry, of the naked, of the homeless, of the crippled, of the blind, of the leprous, of all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared, thrown away (by) society.”
In today’s Gospel, two disciples, James and John, request Jesus for positions of high honor close to him, at his right and left hand. While we might feel a bit put out by their boldness, their request should be familiar to us as well. For James and John were simply giving voice to a temptation deep within all of us.
We welcome a special pat on the back, enjoy places of honor and seek after status symbols. We envy those in authority and exert personal agendas whenever we can. We push to get the first seat, ticket or position and title of prestige, deserved or not. In other words, there’s a James and John in each one of us!
Jesus’ response points to the meaning and cost of Christian discipleship even as he has compassion on our human weakness for prestigious titles, positions and status. And Jesus calls us to something far more satisfying than selfish, ego-driven pursuits. Jesus shows us the way to authentic greatness.
Baptism marks the beginning of the Christian life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are baptized into Jesus Christ, in whom we are transfigured to live a life of grace and selfless love. To live my baptism is to let the life, death and resurrection of Jesus become the pattern of my daily life.
Jesus challenges his disciples, and us, to live in the joy and freedom of this fundamental Christian paradox — greatness is to be found in selfless service of others for “whoever wishes to be great among you,” says Jesus, “will be your servant.” For the grace to live my life as a gift of selfless love of others I humbly pray, “speak to me, Lord.”