Wis 2:12,17-20; Jm 3:16-4:3; Mk 9:30-37Haroun-al-Raschid (Aaron the Just) was the greatest of all the caliphs of Bagdad. In a wonderful book, called "The Arabian Nights," there are many interesting stories about him.
One day the caliph, Haroun-al-Raschid, made a great feast. The feast was held in the grandest room of the palace. The walls and ceiling glittered with gold and precious gems. The table was decorated with rare and beautiful plants and flowers.
All the noblest men of Persia and Arabia were there. Many wise men and poets and musicians had also been invited.
In the midst of the feast the caliph called upon the poet, Abul Atayah, and said, "O prince of verse makers, show us thy skill. Describe in verse this glad and glorious feast."
The poet rose and began: "Live, O caliph and enjoy thyself in the shelter of thy lofty palace."
"That is a good beginning," said Raschid. "Let us hear the rest."
The poet went on: "May each morning brings thee some new joy. May each evening see that all thy wishes have been performed."
"Good! good!" said the caliph, "Go on."
The poet bowed his head and obeyed: "But when the hour of death comes, O my caliph, then alas! Thou wilt learn that all thy delights were but a shadow."
The caliph's eyes were filled with tears. Emotion choked him. He covered his face and wept.
Then one of the officers, who was sitting near the poet, cried out: "Stop! The caliph wished you to amuse him with pleasant thoughts, and you have filled his mind with melancholy."
"Let the poet alone," said Raschid. "He has seen me in my blindness, and is trying to open my eyes."
Jesus in today's Gospel is trying to open the eyes of his disciples to make them understand what true greatness means. He teaches them what remains behind is what we have achieved in our humility. That is why Jesus asked them to be like a child. Greatness in Jesus' view, is found in our willingness to accept, lovingly welcome and serve those who are considered unacceptable. To do this we have to be humble. William Penn wrote about humility,
shines with a double luster when it is set in humility.
An able person and yet humble person is a jewel worth a kingdom."
The people who make a difference in our life are not the ones with the most power, the most money, or the most awards. They are the ones that care, ones that share, ones that love and ones that serve.
Jesus' notion of greatness is not idealistic and unreasonable. The really great men and women, the ones who have made a really great contribution to life, are those who have said to themselves, not 'How can I use the state and society to further my own personal ambitions?' but rather those who have said 'How can I use my personal gifts and talents to serve the state?'
The Greeks had a story of a Spartan called Paedaretos. 300 men were to be chosen to govern Sparta and Paedaretos was a candidate. When the list of the successful was announced, his name was not on it. 'I'm sorry,' said one of his friends, 'that you were not elected. The people ought to have known what a wise officer of state you would have made.' 'I am glad,' said Paedaretos, 'that in Sparta there are 300 men better than I am.'
Here was a man who became a legend because he was prepared to give others the first place and to bear no one ill will.
How many naturally humble people do you know? The answer is "none." Human beings don't come in that flavour; we are instinctive self-promoters. Some of us may be more obvious in our arrogance, but no child is left behind when it comes to inborn sinful pride.
And, yet, finding and choosing humility is absolutely essential. Without it, we cannot come to simple faith in Christ for our salvation. Without it, we cannot live as Jesus did. And without, it we are doomed to remain fools all of our days. As Solomon put it: "With humility comes wisdom." (Proverbs 11:2)
Lao Tzu, The Chinese sage, taught:
humble and you will remain entire.
The sages do not display themselves, therefore they shine.
They do not approve themselves, therefore they are noted.
They do not praise themselves, therefore they have merit.
They do not glory in themselves, therefore they excel."
Besides being humble they represent a great many things that we should follow. Paulo Coelho, the Brazilian lyricist and novelist wrote:
"A child can teach an adult three things: to be happy for no reason, to always be busy with something, and to know how to demand with all his might that which he desires."
Let us cultivate these qualities of a child. It will make us great in the sight of God.