It is natural for human beings to try their best to excel in all that they do. We do this in sports, in careers, and in jobs; even among the community of nations, there is competition to see who is best … who is first.
There is nothing wrong with this; but it is wrong to believe that being first in one endeavor makes us a better person or even the best. Sometimes people confuse these aspects of our lives.
To have a nice job and to get paid more for the job we perform is fine, just as it is for the best team or athlete. But please do not think even for a moment that those things make us better in society or in the eyes of God.
It is this that Jesus addresses in today’s gospel, giving a real direction to our desire for perfection: “If anyone wants to be first… that one must make himself or herself last…”
Why did Jesus suggest that? He did so to change the perspective of our world, one into which we fall many times. What Jesus proposes is to be first in the eyes of the ones who really care for us, and in the eyes of God. Being first or last is up to us; it is not according to who our parents are, our education, or the house we live in, but what we do with all that we have received.
Jesus also suggests a way to achieve our perfection, because the entire life of a person cannot be judged according to things that pass, but by those that endure. The gospel calls us to serve: “He must make himself last of all and servant of all.” The one who perceives of the world differently from others can make his/her existence count, and bring change to the world, not thinking about oneself, but of others. Doing so, we show a greatness of spirit. Look at people who are praised in the eyes of history… they were motivated by concerns larger than themselves. As sons and daughters of God, we are called to think beyond our personal concerns and to act accordingly.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be first. In doing so, however, let us be first in service, first to reach out to others in need.