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Dear brothers and sisters, good day!
The Gospel of today’s Liturgy (Mark 9:30-37) narrates that, on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus’ disciples were discussing “with one another who was the greatest” (Mark 9:34). So, Jesus directed harsh words toward them that are still valid today: “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). If you want to be first, you need to get in line, be last and serve everyone. Through this shocking phrase, the Lord inaugurates a reversal: He overturns the criteria about what truly matters. The value of a person does not depend any more on the role they have, the work they do, the money they have in the bank. No, no, no, it does not depend on this. Greatness and success in God’s eyes are measured differently: they are measured by service. Not on what someone has, but on what someone gives. Do you want to be first? Serve. This is the way.
Today, the word “service” appears a bit hackneyed, worn out by use. But it has a precise and concrete meaning in the Gospel. To serve is not a courteous expression: it means to act like Jesus, who, summing up His life in a few words, said He had come “not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45). This is what the Lord said. Therefore, if we want to follow Jesus, we must follow the path He Himself traced out, the path of service. Our fidelity to the Lord depends on our willingness to serve. And we know this often costs, because “it tastes like a cross.” But, as our care and availability toward others grows, we become freer inside, more like Jesus. The more we serve, the more we are aware of God’s presence. Above all, when we serve those who cannot give anything in return, the poor, embracing their difficulties and needs with tender compassion: and we in turn discover God’s love and embrace there.
After having spoken of the primacy of service, Jesus does something precisely to illustrate this. We have seen that Jesus’ actions are stronger than the words He uses. And what is that action? He takes a child and puts him in the midst of the disciples, at the center, in the most important place (Mark 9:36). In the Gospel, the child does not symbolize innocence so much as littleness. For like children, the little ones depend on others, on adults, they need to receive. Jesus embraces those children and says that those who welcome a little one, a child, welcome Him (Mark 9:37). The ones who are to be served above all are: those in need of receiving who cannot give anything in return. To serve those who need to receive and cannot give anything in return. In welcoming those on the margins, the neglected, we welcome Jesus because He is there. And in the little one, in the poor person we serve, we also receive God’s tender embrace.
Dear brothers and sisters, challenged by the Gospel, let us ask ourselves: Am I, who follow Jesus, interested in the one who is neglected? Or am I rather seeking personal gratification, like the disciples that day? Do I understand life in terms of competing to make room for myself at others’ expense, or do I believe that being first means serving? And, concretely: do I dedicate time to a “little one,” to a person who has no means to pay me back? Am I concerned about someone who cannot give me anything in return, or only with my relatives and friends? These are the questions we need to ask ourselves.
May the Virgin Mary, the humble servant of the Lord, help us understand that to serve does not belittle us, but helps us grow. And that there is more joy in giving than in receiving (Acts 20:35).
— Pope Francis
Editor’s note: Pope Francis did not host a weekly general audience Sept. 15 due to his journey to Hungary and Slovakia.
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