Twenty-fifth Sunday: The Greatest is the Servant
Who would be the top dog? Who would be the greatest one on the Mountain? Would it be James or John, Peter or Andrew? Jesus called them aside. They didn’t know what greatness was.
Dan Mazur knew, though. Dan Mazur is a professional mountain guide. He told his story on the Today Show a few years ago, perhaps you have heard about it.
Early one morning in May, Mazur was leading two well paying clients on a North Ascent up to Mount Everest. They were only two hours from the summit, 28,200 feet up with just another 835 feet to go. Then they saw a dot of colored fabric in the distance. At first they thought it was a tent, but then they realized that it was an abandoned climber. The climber was an Australian named Lincoln Hall. Hall had made it to the top, but during the descent he became gravely ill from oxygen deprivation. His two Sherpa guides tried to help him, but they were forced to leave him to save themselves. When they arrived to safety, they declared that Hall was dead. But Hall wasn’t dead. Somehow, he had managed to survive the night without gloves, jacket, sleeping bag, oxygen or food. He had perched himself on a small ridge, a two foot by two foot space. He could easily have dropped 8,000 feet on one side or 6,000 feet on the other side. Hall was hallucinating when Mazur approached him. Mazur’s team spent the next four hours pulling Hall away from the slopes, giving him bottled oxygen, food and liquids. While they were working hard to save him, two Italian climbers past them on the way to the summit. Mazur asked them to help, they just said that they didn’t speak English. About eleven days earlier, a David Sharp died 1,000 feet into his descent. Dozens of people walked right past him, unwilling to risk their own ascents. Mazur radioed the base camp for help. Some of the Sherpas there finally made it to them. They helped save Hall, but by that time Mazur and his clients were too exhausted to attempt the peak themselves. Their supplies were depleted. They couldn’t wait for another day. They had to return without completing the climb, Mazur without completing his commission. But Mazur said that he had no regrets. “You can always go back to the summit, but you only have one life to live. If I had left that man to die, that would have been on my mind for the rest of my life. How could I live like that?”
Who was the greatest on the mountain? Was it the Italians who made it to the top? Or the others who walked past David Sharp? Or was it Dan Mazur and his team who spent a great deal of money, time and energy and who found a summit 835 feet below the pinnacle of Everest? Their money, time and effort was not wasted. They had conquered Everest without reaching the top of the peak. Dan Mazur knew what greatness was. He and his team put aside their own dreams of conquering Everest for the sake of a fellow climber.
Who would be the greatest among the disciples? Who would make it to the top? Would it be James, John, Peter, or Andrew? They did not know what greatness was. They would learn though. Jesus would show them gretness from a cross.
Jesus calls us to be his disciples, His true followers. He calls us to set aside our own desires for the sake of others. He calls us to seek the greatness of humble generosity, to “rank first” among our families, friends and communities by taking on
the spirit and role of being their servant. “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be last of all and the servant of all.” The jealousy and selfish ambition that attacks the just man in the Book of Wisdom in our first reading this Sunday, and that James berates in the second reading are the sad marks of identification of the godless, people who have rejected God and His Son. The sign of the Christian is seen in setting another’s needs over his or her wants.
We are all called to do this, continually. Every day, every moment of the day you and I are called to consider others over ourselves. The needs of the children, the sick, the poor and the elderly call us away from ourselves and call us into Jesus. Every day we have to resist the temptation to selfishness, the temptation to put ourselves before others. Every day we are called to greatest by conquering a mountain much more difficult than Everest. We have to conquer ourselves. Every day we are called to be the Presence of Jesus for others.
And the infant cries. And the girl with the MBA gets up to nurse him and change him. Her education was worth it. Some day she may go back to work, but she, you ladies, learned greatness through sacrifice. And the retired man spends at least eight hours a day making sure his stricken wife has care and company. He had learned a lot in his life. Now he, you, are a teacher. You are teaching the rest of us what greatness is. And the young single walks away from the bar scene, the wild scene, and becomes an AIDS buddy. You are a great person, using your time to provide care for the dying.
The goal of our lives is union with God. The strength to achieve this union comes from Jesus Christ on the cross. He made Himself weak so we could be strong. We pray today for this strength, the strength to reach out to others in charity, the strength to ascend the Mountain of God.