A message for the week starting on Sunday 19 September 2021
Lectionary Week: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Prescribed Texts: Proverbs 31:10-31, Psalm 1, James 3:13- 4:3,7-8a, Mark 9:30-37
Who is the Greatest and Who is the Least?
Focus Text: Mark 9: 30-37
“Who is the greatest?” This question seems to be simple, but in reality, it portrays one of the biggest intrinsic deficiencies embodied in the human nature: pride.
At an international level, this question is raised: “Who is the greatest?” It seems clear to those who follow the news worldwide that, after the fall of Soviet Union, the USA was the main superpower of the world. If we look at the sub-regional level (Southern Africa) and raise the same question, “Who is the greatest?”, analysts will unanimously point their fingers to South Africa and maybe, in some domains, Angola will be mentioned too. The way these countries are taken into account in the sub-regional chess game, shows clearly that they are viewed as “the greatest”.
The element, of “pride”, is also a reality at grassroots level. Our text leads us to this level. Jesus’ disciples spent a lot of time arguing amongst themselves about “who is the greatest”. We are reminded of the petition the mother of Zebedee’s sons presented to Jesus, to put one of her sons at His right hand and the other one at His left hand in His Kingdom (Matthew 20:17-28). In other words, this mother was asking Jesus to make her sons “the greatest”, to the detriment of other disciples.
Fortunately, Jesus creates a new paradigm. According to this, “the greatest” should be the least and the leader should be servant. Jesus translated this paradigm into practice: in being the leader among His disciples, but washing their feet and recommending that they do the same to one another (John 13:1-17). Being God, He made Himself man, to the extent of being equal with all human beings, except in sin (Philippians 2:4-11).
The Church should keep to the paradigm of our Lord Jesus Christ, and be a Church who serves vulnerable people, including those living with HIV and AIDS. Christians should struggle spiritually to avoid the question “who is the greatest”. They should particularly consider the unforeseen social implications of pride in human relations, especially its tendency to stratify people. This tendency leads us to the dangerous attitude of stigmatizing and discriminating against other human beings who seem incapable of meeting certain standards, whether moral, economic, political, social, academic, etc. Its here where the more advantaged fill themselves with pride and start underestimating others.
As for people living with HIV and AIDS, we assume that they are the worst sinners, and that this is why God is punishing them. Unlike them, we are “holy” and so we avoid communion with them. Jesus looks at the Church and says: No one among you is “the greatest”. If one of you wants to be “the greatest”, he/she should be the least; I called you to serve all, regardless.
To think about: Pride is even seen amongst the slaves and servants of the ancient households, where the lowest of slaves would do the lowest of work like the washing of feet. But we see how Jesus comes and how He washed the feet of the disciples. To be a true follower of Christ should result in being a humble servant, who will serve anyone.
Written By: Eduardo Vundo Sassa, Pastor, Community Development Director of Evangelical Church of Angola and Churches Channels of Hope (CCoH) Facilitator