“Aging is mandatory but maturing is optional.” Or so the saying goes. We can’t do a single thing about getting older. But we do have choices to make about maturing as we age.
Sometimes adults can act like little kids. Today’s Gospel is a case in point. The 12 Apostles were walking with Jesus to Capernaum and they were arguing among themselves as to which one of them was the greatest.
And Jesus sets them straight when He says: “If anyone wishes to be first, they shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” And then – as a kind of visual aid – Jesus puts His arms around a child and says: “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me. And whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”
“Welcome a child,” Jesus says, “and you welcome me.”
Children are a wonderful blessing. But those of you who have them know that they can also be quite messy, quite noisy and they can keep us off balance.
A busy mother was getting dinner prepared for her family, and trying to get that last bit of catsup out of the bottle. Then the phone rang and she asked one of her daughters to answer it. And she did so very politely, as she had been taught.
“Mommy, it’s Father Smith from church.” And then she says back into the telephone: “Mommy can’t come to the phone right now. She’s hitting the bottle.”
Yes, kids can keep us off balance sometimes. And yet – even though they are small – they can teach us grown-ups some powerful lessons.
Look at all of their energy. They don’t simply walk – they run, skip, hop, and probably would fly if they were able. And we mope along, dragging our feet and looking worn out. We can get a bit jaded in life, a bit cynical and disappointed. And yet when we look at our children, they believe that anything is possible. They are full of hope and expectation. They see every person as someone to love. The little ones even serve us.
“Aging is mandatory. Maturing is optional.” Jesus wants all of His disciples to grow in maturity and He gives us the formula and the example: “If anyone wishes to be first, they shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
Jesus, the Son of God, humbled Himself and became a man. He chose to be a servant. And if we want to be like Him, we must become servants as well.
For people who are insecure in life, this is a difficult lesson. They frequently try to mask their own insecurities by commanding a lot of attention for themselves or by wanting to control others. Humility is very threatening for them. But Jesus is our model. He takes us from immaturity, where we are takers – to maturity, where we are givers.
A real temptation for so many people is to think that everybody else has it better than they do – perfect marriages, perfect families, perfect homes, perfect jobs. May I tell you from my vantage point of being a priest for 40 years that I do not know of any perfect marriages, families, homes or jobs. I know of lots and lots of people who are working hard to improve in these areas every day – and they make progress, one day at a time. But achieving perfection? Not in this lifetime on earth!
But we continue to strive and to grow each day with God’s grace to become more mature as we age: moving from being less takers to becoming more givers. “If anyone wishes to be first, they shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
Look at what happened to the Apostles. They moved from immaturity, arguing about which one of them was the greatest – to becoming more mature, becoming preachers and evangelizers, giving their lives for Christ and for others. They moved from being takers to becoming givers – from self-interest to service.
There is a classic story about a lady who was going through some very tough times in life. And she was feeling very sorry for herself. One day she went to visit the village wise man, asking him how she could become happy again.
He gave her this advice: “Walk through a neighborhood and look for a home where you think there are no problems, and knock on the door. And when you find one such home, come back and let me know.”
She never returned because she never found a home where there were no problems or worries or suffering. And she also discovered that she was a pretty good listener. And moving from the misery of her self-pity to the ministry of serving others she became a very happy person once again.
And so Jesus gives us some very good advice today for our living: “If anyone wishes to be first, they shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
We have His example and His grace – and lots of opportunities before us today.