Some conversations are a waste of breath and time. Such as “Who is the greatest?” Do these followers of Jesus really think that he’s going to stoop to their level and say, “Let’s see, should I pick Peter and Andrew as the greatest, or James and John as the greatest, or Philip and Bartholomew as the greatest, or, maybe Judas Iscariot will stop stealing money from the purse and become my greatest disciple?”
It’s all a waste of breath and time. It’s downright immature and foolish, to think that Christ the Lord is going to choose sides, or he’s going to line them all up, look at them square in the eye, and say, “Okay, you Matthew the tax collector, you’re the greatest among this small group of followers of mine.” No wonder why they kept silent when Jesus asked them what they were arguing about on the way to Capernaum. Their honest answer would have made them look even more foolish than they already were. It would have revealed them to be the little children that they were spiritually.
Also, this conversation was a waste of time because the greatest disciple, whom they all will come to know, she and Joseph already raised their Son in the tiny village of Nazareth for the past 30 years. His greatest disciple already gave birth to him. His greatest disciple was already born without the stain of original sin, destined to be assumed body and soul into heaven, sitting in the place where these guys want to sit, thinking they deserve that place.
Mary was called long before they were, and called to do something that was impossible for them to do. In her giving birth to the Savior, this entire “greatest” conversation is made possible, for without her loving “Yes” to Gabriel, heaven would be sadly silent to this very day. She’s the greatest among them, yet, we never hear such words coming from the lips of the Mother of God. She lacks their immaturity in her life, and is filled instead with the Spirit.
St. James in his writing today is so correct, “You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” This Scriptural verse couldn’t be more correct when placed alongside this Gospel of their arguing over who is the greatest among them.
We continue to go back many times to this observation about the Apostles concerning their growth as followers of Jesus. This conversation about who’s the greatest among them is like the low point in their understanding of what Jesus is calling them to. They think their lives are now going to be a cakewalk. That all is easy-peasy because they now personally belong to the Lord of the universe. And within that falsely confident thought they now argue within their own little circle about who’s number one. They match their big egos with their tiny understanding of the Man they walk with. And there’s still much of that today, where Christ is falsely represented by adults who are tricked into thinking they know Christ the Lord better than the holy people. Better than the handful of Mary’s of this world.
And that’s what we find at the heart of this heated discussion they hold within earshot of Jesus, who can hear everything they talk about, probably shaking his holy head the few hours it takes them to walk to Capernaum. Our Lord must have been thinking as he walked along, “I can’t wait to see how this plays out! I can’t wait to ask these little children what they were talking about.” And, he does ask them. “What were you arguing about on the way?” The answer? Silence. The kind of silence you’re looking for when someone you’re with is talking to loud in public, in a restaurant, about politics, or sports, or religion, and you want to say “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Everybody is looking at us!”
You know what their silence to Jesus represents? It represents their admission of how dumb the conversation was. Of how misguided and ill-informed it was. That their story had many, many holes in it. They knew when Jesus asked them what they were arguing about, how little they understood what the Master was looking for from them. They were controlled by worldly thoughts, and not by their faith in him. My friends, don’t be controlled by worldly thoughts. Be controlled by your faith in Him, which brings us freedom.
What their silence also brings about is a small bit of growth, which is good. Making room for silence for Christ will do that, especially in our whacky world of noise. The Apostles’ silence to Jesus’ simple question of what they were arguing about is the perfect answer, when the spoken answer would have been, “We were arguing about who was the greatest, Lord. We’ll leave it up to you. Would you like to choose one of us so we can settle this issue?”
“Yes, I would. I’m glad you asked. I choose the woman who gave birth to me. She’s the greatest of my disciples, because she’s humble like this little child in front of you, and not arrogant like you adults who act like little children. She’s the greatest disciple because in heart and mind she has already died for me in her silence, Our Lady of Sorrows. And when you guys finally come home after drinking from my cup of martyrdom, you’ll see her standing next to me.”
Silence is good. Make room for silence in your life for Christ. When Jesus asked them the question, unknowingly they gave the best answer: silence. In their silence, they took one step toward growth in their understanding of what discipleship for Christ truly means, which begins and ends with being a servant.