Weekly Preaching

True Greatness Comes from Loving Service


Twenty- Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 20, 2020

Is 55:6-9/Phil1:20c-24, 27a/Mt. 20-1-16a

Sr. Mary Howard Johnstone, OP
Sr. Mary Howard Johnstone, OP

Today’s Gospel is another one of Jesus’ stories that may leave us somewhat perplexed and wondering. What is this vineyard landowner story all about? How can this be fair? Is Jesus simply leveling the playing field? Like in so many instances, Jesus turns accepted, expected customs upside down to make the point that God’s kingdom is radically different from our understanding.

Jesus’ words nudge us. “If anyone wishes to be first, he or she must be willing to be the last, the least of all and the servant of all.”

Jesus is saying that our deep-down ache to be great is something that is good, but then he turns the criteria for greatness on its head. In Jesus’ eyes, true greatness doesn’t consist in being #1. As far as Jesus is concerned, the greatest people are those who love the most, those who are most willing to put the needs of others ahead of their own. With this criteria, greatness is not something reserved for a select few. It is something that is in reach for all of us since all of us can love—all of us can serve, all of us can put ourselves out for another. There is nothing wrong with the desire to be great, but Jesus insists that true greatness comes from loving service—not control, domination, and the need to be better than another.

By Jesus’ criteria, Sojourner Truth, Oscar Romero, John Lewis, and Dr. King certainly rank among great people in our history. And so do a lot of devoted parents and dedicated teachers and tireless social workers and committed health care personnel and so many of our Sisters. So who are the “greats” in your life and how do they match Jesus’ criteria?

by Sister Mary Howard Johnstone, OP