Sermon, September 19, 2021 – Pentecost 17

True Greatness

In today’s Gospel Jesus again announces his approaching Passion, and by example begins to teach his disciples the meaning of greatness. On his way to Jerusalem, he reminds them a second time that he is going there to suffer, to die, and to rise on the third day. How can they possibly understand or accept this?

To avoid being detained, he travels incognito, not wanting anyone to know of his passage through the territory.

At this point the disciples are perplexed and even afraid to ask him the meaning of his message. When they reach Capernaum, Jesus asks them what they were discussing during the walk. Now they are embarrassed to answer him, since apparently they have been arguing about who will be number one in the coming Kingdom.

They have much to learn about the importance of others, their own lack of “getting it” — and what is ahead for the Body of Christ who will carry on in his absence.

In order to address the issue, Jesus begins to explain to the disciples the difficult truth, and to demonstrate how to be great. He proclaims, “If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and a servant of all.”

And if these words are not enough, he takes a little child and lovingly sets the child in their midst. The way you treat those who can’t “lord it over” you is the way your true greatness is measured.

It’s not all about you. If those who still struggle or cannot speak for themselves are central to the Kingdom, then the Christ is surely closer than we thought — in our very midst.

Leo Tolstoy’s story of Martin the Cobbler is about a lonely shoemaker who is promised in a dream that Christ will come to visit his shop. The next day Martin rises early, gets his shop ready, prepares a meal, and waits.

The only one who shows up in the morning is an old beggar who comes by and asks for rest. Martin gives him the room that he had prepared for his Divine guest.

The only one to show up in the afternoon is an old lady with a heavy load of wood. She is hungry and asks for food. Martin gives her the meal he had prepared for his Divine guest.

As evening comes, a lost boy wanders by. Martin takes him home, afraid all the while he will miss the Christ. That night in his prayers he asks the Lord, “Where were You? I waited all day for You.”

The Lord says to Martin:

  • Three times I came to your friendly door,
  • Three times my shadow was on your floor.
  • I was a beggar with bruised feet.
  • I was the woman you gave to eat.
  • I was the homeless child on the street.

He is here among us in the “little ones” — those who cannot offer us status or wealth or acclaim. Watch out! the story warns us. Christ may be closer than you can imagine.


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