True Greatness 2021-9-19 Fr. Roberto
Homily for 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B
Fr. Roberto Corral, OP
St. Dominic Church, Los Angeles, CA
September 19, 2021
Title: True Greatness
Theme: Our true greatness comes from God and from surrendering our false self.
Readings: Wisdom 2:12, 17-20; James 3:16-4:3; Mark 9:30-37
As you know, we just had the Olympics this summer, and, even though they were diminished by the pandemic this year, it is still amazing to watch these athletes and see what they can do with their bodies, isn’t it? They are some of the greatest athletes in the world, and they are the best at what they do. Can you imagine how much time, effort and sacrifice they have to dedicate to get to that level of greatness? It is a good and noble ideal to want to be the best at anything and to be willing to pay the price to achieve greatness. I believe God truly honors those kinds of ideals, desires and efforts; in fact, I would say that they come from God, and they are important ways we can honor God in our lives.
And, I would also say that, in today’s Gospel, Jesus puts these ideals, desires and efforts for achieving greatness into an important and bigger context: the context of what true greatness is in the eyes of God. In our Gospel, Jesus, who was the greatest human being who ever lived and who was also God, is talking about his passion, death and resurrection, the single greatest event in the history of the universe. Yet, unbelievably, his apostles do not understand or care about what he is saying. Why? Because they are arguing about their own greatness! Don’t you just want to tell them: “Would you guys please just get over yourselves – it is not about you; it’s about Jesus!” But, as easy it is for us to blame the apostles for their foolishness and arrogance, we have to remember that, at times, we can do the same thing. At times, we too can be so caught up in our own egos and agendas that we don’t have the slightest clue about what God is saying to us, doing for us, or wants for us.
As I mentioned last week, this preaching series is entitled, “Surrender to Win.” Last week, I mentioned that two crucial steps we have to take in order to find peace, freedom and appiness, i.e., to “win” at life, are #1: to surrender to Jesus; and #2: to accept that everything belongs in our lives – the good and the bad. And, I said that God at times permits evil and suffering because he has the power to bring good from them for us and for our world.
Today, I want to talk about probably the biggest obstacle that keeps us from finding peace, freedom and happiness, from winning at life and from achieving true greatness in our lives.
This obstacle is our ego, which is also called our “false self.” On the one hand, our true self is who we are in God’s eyes, who we are at the core of our being; on the other hand, our false self is the more superficial image of ourselves we often project for others to see. Like the apostles in today’s Gospel, our ego or false self is always comparing and competing with others because it needs to feel superior to someone else for its own sense of worth. That is why our false self is always asking itself, “What do people think of me? What will help me look good?” If you find yourself asking these kinds of questions often, be careful!
Our ego can be so fragile that it can spend a lot of time and energy seeking validation, security, significance and adequacy. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, this ego, this false self of ours has to die if we are ever going to grow spiritually, if we are going to win at life and achieve true greatness in the eyes of God! To our ego, greatness is most often about physical or mental abilities, possessions or accomplishments. Just think about how many people in our world are considered great because of these things. Now, physical and mental abilities, possessions and accomplishments are not bad things in themselves, but way too many people make them the ultimate focus of their lives, and the ultimate measure of greatness.
So, what does Jesus do in today’s Gospel to undermine this superficial and misguided mindset?
He places a child in front of his apostles – a child whose physical and mental abilities are not even fully developed yet; --a child who has little or no possessions whatsoever; --a child who has not accomplished anything significant in the world yet. Jesus is so brilliant and sneaky!
What Jesus is telling them by this one simple demonstration is that true greatness, a true sense of our worth and security do not come from any of those external things. Rather, Jesus says time and time again that our true greatness, worth and security come from God and from who we are in God’s eyes.
In other words, it’s not what we look like, what we possess or what we have accomplished that makes us great; it’s who we are in the truest and deepest part of ourselves. Our true self is who we are in God; nothing more and nothing less. And once we realize that, there is nothing to prove or protect or argue about. Trying to figure out who is greater makes absolutely no sense.
I am who I am in God, and you are who you are in God; there is no need for us to compare or compete or to jockey for position. My true greatness has nothing to do with you or any other human being; it comes from who I am in God.
So, does this mean we cannot strive for greatness in other ways in our lives? Certainly not.
Does this mean that we cannot compete in school, at work, in sports, politics or in other ways? Not at all. But it does mean that we put all those efforts at striving for greatness in perspective.
We strive to be the best, not in comparison and competition with others, but simply to be the best we can be; to utilize the gifts, strengths and talents God has given to us for our own good, to a certain extent, but most especially for the good of others. Our true greatness comes, not by trying to be better than others or trying to make them somehow less than we are, but in serving others and in loving them. And that is exactly what Jesus says in today’s Gospel: “If anyone wishes to be first, they shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
As I said last week, if we want to win at life; in other words, if we want to find peace, freedom and happiness, we have to surrender to Jesus. And a huge part of surrendering to Jesus is surrendering our ego, our false self. The reason for that is that the false self does not want to surrender to anyone, not even to God, because, more than anything else, our false self wants to be in control. If you need to be in control of your life, of your loved one’s life; if you always need things to work out the way you want, then you have an ego problem! So, let go! It is a lifelong battle to let go of our ego, but as we do so, we will realize that it frees us from wasting all that time and energy feeling inadequate or insecure, comparing, competing, protecting and validating ourselves by doing more or having more. As we surrender our ego, our false self, we can simply rest in the security of knowing who we are in God’s eyes.
So, yes, try to be the best you can be, strive for greatness, but not the greatness your ego craves for and demands. Rather, strive for the true greatness that comes dying to your ego,
the true greatness that comes from surrendering to Jesus and serving others. My brothers and sisters, surrender your ego, surrender to be truly great. Surrender to win.
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