Our Gospel reading for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time is from Mark (9:30-37), and it follows immediately after the story of the Transfiguration. That incident was a very moving and awesome experience for the apostles. They were enthusiastic about the presence of this long awaited Messiah. Emotionally and spiritually, these men were on cloud nine.
The heart of Jesus’ message has always been that true greatness can only be found in service and in the total giving of self. But after the magnificence of that Transfiguration experience these men were entertaining visions of glory and grandeur. Jesus was aware of their inability to comprehend the heart of His message; so to illustrate His point Jesus calls their attention to a little child. By this example, Jesus was telling His disciples that this is what you should be striving to become. The point has nothing to do with innocence or childishness. The point is social. In their society, a child had absolutely no social status at all. A child was basically a non-person socially, until they reached the age of adulthood. The shock value of this example cannot be overemphasized. It was almost the exact opposite of what the disciples understood discipleship to be. By this example, Jesus is teaching His disciples, and He is telling us, that we are to strive to become last of all and servant of all. This, and only this, is where true greatness lies.
Even though we have heard this story from Sacred Scriptures many times, and even though we have heard the same principle many times in the stories that we read as children and in stories that we’ve read to our children, we are not much different than those disciples of Jesus. We, too, frequently fail to fully grasp and implement the principles contained in Jesus’ lesson.
In order to demonstrate the principles contained in this scriptural lesson, I would like to share a child’s story with you. This story has been read to many children over the years. Maybe you’ve heard it before. I chose this story because, basically, I think that this story is an excellent demonstration of the principles contained in our lesson this weekend.
“Many years ago, in a far away land, there was a small little village. And one year, their weather became very hot and dry. No rain fell on this village for a very long time. The grasses turned brown. The plants withered for lack of moisture. The rivers and lakes dried up and became dust. Even the wells dried up.
The people and their cattle all began to suffer very much. Some even became very sick. There was one little girl whose mother became especially ill. “If only I could find some water for my mother”, thought the little girl. “I know she would get better.” So the little girl decided that she would go out and search for some water. She searched their little home till she found a tin cup that had a rather long handle. And with this water dipper, she went off in search of some water. She walked for a very long time, till eventually she found herself high up in the mountains. She found a spring. But the spring was almost dry. The water was slowly coming out of the ground near a rock, drop by drop. She put her tin cup under the rock to catch the drops. It took so very long to fill her tin cup; but when the cup was finally full, she headed for home, walking so very carefully, carrying her tin cup.
When she was about half way home, she passed a small little dog. The poor little dog was so thirsty. It was lying on the side of the path, too weak to move. It was panting, and its tongue was parched for lack of moisture. “Oh, you poor little doggy,” said the little girl. “I cannot pass you by and allow you to continue suffering like this. Here, let me share some of my water with you. I can give you some and still have enough for my mother.” So she poured some of the water into the cup of her hand for the little dog to drink. The little dog drank the water from the little girl’s hand, then licked her palm till he got every last drop. It made the little dog feel better almost instantly. He stood up and barked playfully at the little girl, just as if he was saying, “Thank you”. Carefully carrying her tin cup, the little girl continued her walk home. The little girl didn’t notice, but her tin cup changed into a silver dipper, and it became just as full as it had been before.
When she reached her home, an old village lady opened the door for her. This little old woman was caring for the little girl’s mother while she was away from the house. This poor little old woman was so dry and thirsty, she was unable to speak. The little girl’s sick mother picked up her head and said, “Give her some of the water first. She has been working hard all day long.” So the little girl held the cup up for the little old woman. She drank from the water and it refreshed her greatly, making her feel better almost instantly. The little girl didn’t notice but, when the little old lady handed the dipper back to the little girl, it changed into a golden dipper and it became just as full as it had been before.
Feeling stronger now, the old woman went to the little girl’s mother to lift her mother’s head so that she too could drink. The little girl lifted the cup up to her mother’s lips. After drinking, the little girl’s mother felt so much better and so very much stronger. She handed the water dipper back to her little daughter so she too could drink. But just as the little girl was about to lift the cup to her lips, there was a knock at the door. The elderly woman answered the door, and there stood a stranger. He did not look well at all. He was pale and all covered with dust. In a very weak voice he said, “I am thirsty.” The little girl walked up to the stranger carrying her cup and, handing the dipper to the stranger, she said, “Here you drink it. Drink it all. You need it far more than I”. The stranger looked at the little girl, and smiled. The cup changed into a diamond dipper. The stranger turned the dipper upside down and spilled the water out upon the dusty ground. The water quickly sank into the dry earth and disappeared. But from the very spot that the water fell, bubbled up a fountain of water; more than enough water for all the people and all the animals in the land.
The little girl was so amazed at all the water that was flowing from the fountain that she almost forgot about the stranger. But when she lifted her eyes to look back at the stranger, he had disappeared. She looked about and she just caught a glimpse of him as he vanished up into the sky. And as he did so, he flung the little girls dipper out into the sky and it grew bigger and bigger till it too vanished. But in its place were bright, shiny diamonds outlining the shape of the little girl’s dipper.
You see, the stranger was an angel sent by God. And to this very day, if you look up into the sky on a clear night, you can still see the little girl’s dipper. We call it the big dipper. God leaves the dipper in the sky to remind all who look upon it, of the little girl; and to remember her loving kindness, her compassion, and her unselfishness.”
God wants us to remember that all His children are called to greatness. And He wants us to remember that true greatness can only be found in service and the total giving of self, demonstrated by our loving kindness, our compassion and our unselfishness
REVEREND MR. DONALD COX is a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Detroit. On June 9, 1979, Deacon Don was ordained to the diaconate by His Eminence John Cardinal Dearden, an important American Father of the Second Vatican Council. He is currently assigned to St. Cornelius parish in Dryden, Michigan. Married and the father of three children and grandfather to four children, Deacon Don was born and raised in Detroit, and educated at St. Brigid Elementary School, Mackenzie High School, and Lawrence Technological University. His theological training was taken at Detroit’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary.