Gospel according to Matthew (18:1-5, 10)
THE DISCIPLES approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?” He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”
We live in a time when relentless self-promotion is subconsciously the new normal. Give someone a smartphone, and most likely that person will use it to take a photo of himself/herself and post it online. Give someone a platform on social media and he/she will likely post anything about his/her preferences. We have become a generation craving for likes. One would do anything just to get likes or shares, desperate for virtual social acceptance. Once we have the platform, there is the risk for self-promotion for the wrong reasons. Self-promotion is the opposite of evangelization.
The face of evangelization 500 years ago is no less than the Sto. Niño de Cebu, reminding us of Christianity coming to our shores. This event gave us Filipinos the mission to be evangelizers as well. Today, the social media is the most viable means of spreading the Good News. In our Gospel, let us learn from Jesus, the Sto. Niño, how to be evangelizers carrying genuine proclamation.
Jesus counters the culture of relentless self-promotion and meaningless self-aggrandizement by using the image of a child to demonstrate greatness. In the eyes of Jesus, a child is great because a child personifies humility and has no agenda. God wants us to promote not ourselves but the values of the Kingdom which are lasting, universal and beautiful expressions of our humanity. Instead of promoting our faces, which will eventually be worn out, why not promote something that actually helps?
Self-promotion is the modern expression of the sin of pride, which has disguised itself in the past in the form of vanity, arrogance, selfishness, and individualism. It is the relentless putting of oneself into a pedestal, like the disciples asking Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?” Hitherto the disciples have only seen their Master as a channel of greatness, upon whom they can pin their hopes for personal greatness, thus vindicating their sacrifice of leaving their former lives for his sake. Jesus now teaches them the hard lesson that ambition and glory, as long as God’s Kingdom is concerned, must be seen in the eyes of a child.
We live in a world where there is a plethora of available means to be great in the eyes of the world. Social media promises fame, riches, and power once we learn to explore its many rules and venues. It’s not bad to utilize social media. In fact, there are bloggers who use social media to preach the word of God and some values, and other human spiritual needs. There are people who have become faces of promoting the Gospel values and they are doing it well.
Social media can become—and, fortunately, is already—an instrument for evangelization for the people of God. Evangelization is the work of God and we are just instruments. St. Arnold Janssen said: “The proclamation of the Good News is the greatest act of charity.”
But for our proclamation to be genuine, we must set aside our egos. The Gospel challenges us to tear out and throw away that which causes us to stumble. It is challenging us to eventually remove the serf from the Gospel we preach so that God may increase, even at our expense. It is challenging us to eventually remove the self from our proclamation so that only Jesus Christ would stand out.
It is our mission by virtue of our baptism to proclaim the Good News to everyone. While we are not forced or obliged to use our social media platforms to evangelize, we are nevertheless encouraged, to do so in the spirit of Christian charity. Proclamation in itself is an act of charity. Proclaiming it devoid of our biases and agenda is the completion of charity in this ministry.
Let us ask the Sto. Niño to teach us and move us to aspire for greatness in the eyes of God every day, and shun the shallow promise of earthly greatness.
– Rev. Jose Carlos Raadas, SVD