The apostles had been arguing again! This time it was about who was the greatest. It is not difficult to guess that people have been having a bitter argument; it is usually written on their faces. Certainly you could not hide that from the eyes of Jesus. Jesus knew their thoughts and asked them what they had been arguing about. He did not need an answer. So he set before them a little child. “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest.”
What has receiving a little child got to do with greatness? Perhaps the apostles expected a response from Jesus like: "'Peter, you are the greatest because I chose you to be the leader of the Church." Or: "John, you are the greatest because I love you above all your companions". Or: James and Jude, you are great above your comrades because you are related to me... No, Matthew, you are great because you understand money, you are able to carry on with the organization I am about to set up... Batholomew, you are a true Israelite, a man without guile. You are the first among my apostles..." Jesus said nothing of the kind. He does not measure greatness the way we humans do so, by contrasting the qualities we have with their absence in those against whom we measure ourselves.
There are three things we learn about the divine measure of greatness. In the first place greatness means learning to be in harmony with the God of surprises, like a little child. A child takes life as it comes. I have seen children playing happily in a refugee camp, glad that all of a sudden they have many playmates, oblivious of the sorrows of their parents. They quickly see new opportunities in new situation and forget about previous losses. They have no attachments like elders. Secondly greatness is to the extent that we receive Jesus Christ, and through him the Father who sent him. Often people whom God called for a certain mission had an overwhelming sense of unworthiness or incapacity. God's invariable response is: I will be with you. With God everything is possible; without him we are nothing, no matter how much we think we are something. Thirdly, greatness is in to the extent we learn how to love. Receiving a child in Jesus' name means love. A child is representative of those who are weak and helpless. When we learn to receive and love these in the name of Jesus, we receive Jesus and not only him, but also the one who sent him. Then we are really great.
26 Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Great like a little child