The Gospel reading set for today is Mark
In my English translation, we read that Jesus’
disciples were arguing about who, among them, was greatest. But the Greek word
rendered as an argument is dialogizomai, from which we get our English
word ‘dialogue’. It means, I reason (with), debate (with), consider. They are
having a considered debate as to who is greatest.
The word translated ‘greatest’ carries a range
of meaning, including who is senior by age, or what is widest in scope. As
someone who regularly runs with people younger than myself, or whose girth is
considerably more slender than mine, I can pride myself in being the greatest
runner in the pack, even if I will never be the fastest. Seriously though, a
considered debate on greatness depends on the metrics we measure, and whether
or not we can agree on those metrics.
Jesus does not dismiss their argument, so much
as enter-into their debating (having, apparently, been kept out of it up till
now: no-one wants the sure favourite in the room when you are debating who is
greatest). And his contribution for their consideration is that whoever wants
to be first must be last of all. Whoever would be the protos—the first
in a procession, enabling others to follow—must be the eschatos—the end
of all things, its summing up to completion.
The one possessing the greatest width is the
one who is the Alpha and the Omega (first and last letters of the Greek
alphabet), the Beginning and the End—to employ a title by which the Church
would come to honour Jesus.
In the context of the preceding verses, in
which Jesus is attempting to prepare his disciples for what is to come, that
Jesus will be killed and, three days later, rise again, the protos and eschatos
is the one who will lead the way passing from death to life, in whom none who
follow shall be lost.
Jesus, the pack leader who both leads the pack
out, and regularly regroups to keep those running at the back from falling
Greatness is no bad thing to aspire to, nor
something to be embarrassed about. But if you are going to go down as one of
the greats, be known as great for what you did for others, for how you inspired
and empowered them, folding them into something greater than the sum of all our