Despite the best efforts of the parents to avoid "playing favorites" among their children, every once in a while a word of affection or approval, an action which confers some sort of favor on their part for one of the children will be interpreted to mean the answer to the mystery has finally been solved and one child among the others will cling doggedly to the notion that they are the favorite despite any and all evidence to the contrary. Why does this happen? For us human beings love is the highest value, therefore being loved more than all others is the greatest prize of all.
" 'What were you arguing about on the way?' But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest."
Envy, the consuming desire to have something that belongs to another, to be someone else or somewhere else rejects the will and providence of God and tears human relationships apart.
"The tenth commandment requires that envy be banished from the human heart. When the prophet Nathan wanted to spur King David to repentance, he told him the story about the poor man who had only one ewe lamb that he treated like his own daughter and the rich man who, despite the great number of his flocks, envied the poor man and ended by stealing his lamb. Envy can lead to the worst crimes. 'Through the devil's envy death entered the world':
- 'We fight one another, and envy arms us against one another. . . . If everyone strives to unsettle the Body of Christ, where shall we end up? We are engaged in making Christ's Body a corpse. . . . We declare ourselves members of one and the same organism, yet we devour one another like beasts.'(CCC 2538)
In today's Gospel the Apostles descend among themselves into envious bickering about who is the greatest among them. They have begun to discover that Jesus is great, that He is the Messiah, perhaps they have even begun to believe correctly that He is God. What more "natural" inclination could there be among those who share the intimate friendship of a great man, possibly the greatest of all men, than to compete among themselves as to who among them is closest to Him, can claim to be greater than the others, himself next in greatness to the Great One?
Christianity is hard and sometimes painful. For our divine Founder our Faith was the hardest and the most painful, for in order to save us in His Church He had first to die on a Cross. So the Lord takes the opportunity, upon discovering the occurrence of rivalries and dissensions among His closest followers the Apostles, to prepare them for the scandal of the Cross, the stumbling block that has prevented many down the centuries, following upon the time of Apostles, to fall away from the Faith and to no longer follow Christ. The Apostles, the twelve foundation stones of His Church, needed to be strengthened in order to lead the others. Christ teaches that, for they who follow Him most closely, more so than for others is necessary a servanthood like His own on the Cross. In order to demonstrate this He depends upon the example of a child.
"Taking a child, he placed it in the their midst,
and putting his arms around it, he said to them,
'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.' "
You see, it turns out that to be great like God, to be close to Him and enjoy His love, we must be like Him. And the more deeply we share in His servanthood on the Cross the more deeply and satisfyingly will we share His love, be as it were His "favorites". This love of God overcomes temptations to envy from which arise the rivalries and dissensions which rend the fabric of families and the human family.
To be servants like the greatest Servant, Jesus our Lord, we must serve others by seeing in them children of God just like ourselves. We must serve others by welcoming them and loving in the highest way by helping them to also meet, know and love Jesus Christ as have we. We do this in imitation of Jesus our Lord who rendered the greatest service in the history of the world: through His perfect Suffering Servanthood on the Cross He has made of us all true children of His heavenly Father.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.