Who are the people whom the world considers important? Who are the people who show up on the covers of Time, Newsweek and People magazines? They are the women and men with power who make things happen. Or the rich who have luxurious homes and fast cars. They are the "beautiful people" - actors, musicians, politicians - who are attractive and have personalities that get them noticed. These are the people our materialistic culture holds up as "heroes". These are the people our society worships.
But the way we measure importance is far different from the way Jesus measured it. Power, money, looks, charisma - none of that made a person important to him. Instead, Jesus came to serve those who went unnoticed, those who didn't seem to make a difference in society. He came for the sick, the lepers, the poor and all those pushed aside by the world and seen as a drain on its resources. Those were the people he sought out in every city and town he entered. When he preached God's love and concern for every person, he was speaking to them. When he healed, theirs were the bodies he touched. And it was the sinners he chose to eat with, not those who were righteous in their own eyes. Everything Jesus did and said was directed to those who were forgotten, pushed aside, ridiculed and reviled.
And so he taught his followers that the only way that they could be important in God's eyes - the only way that they could get noticed - was to make themselves the slaves of others. If God's loving gaze was always on the poor, then they had to make themselves poor. If it was the sick that God was gathering into his kingdom, then they had to be found among them. The strong would have to make themselves the slaves of the weak, and the rich would have to put themselves at the service of the poor. Jesus taught that his greatest follower would be the one who acted as if everyone else were greater, as if everyone else were holier, as if everyone else were more important.
In today's gospel, Jesus illustrates his point by placing a child in their midst. In doing so, he was stressing that their job was to reach out to those members of society who were the most insignificant. In Jesus' day, children had no legal rights at all and were, therefore, the most vulnerable members of society. Jesus' message was that the greatest of his disciples would be the ones to look after the needs of the most vulnerable, those who otherwise would fall through the cracks.
Why does Jesus insist on this point? Because he believed that every human life had the same value in God's eyes. The poor person's life means as much as the wealthy person's life. The life of the sick is no less valuable than that of the healthy and strong. In God's eyes, the death of an Iraqi soldier is as tragic as the death of an American soldier. A person's power or money cannot make their lives more precious. To God, every human life is worth creating and every human life is worth saving. God never thinks that he has wasted his gift of life on any one of us.
The greatest example of this is the cross. Jesus, the innocent Son of God, the most important person who ever lived, was willing to give his life for each and every one of us. Whenever we are tempted to doubt our own worth or the worth of another person, we must remember that, no matter what we might think about ourselves or others, God thought us precious enough to offer up his Son in sacrifice for us. Jesus was willing to give his life up for ours. How, then, could we ever doubt the inestimable value of each and every human life, no matter how young or how old, how rich or how poor, how weak or how strong?
Jesus calls us who wish to follow him to serve the needs of those society deems unimportant. We must consider the needs of those who normally go unnoticed to be more important than our own because every human being deserves our love and attention.
Who in our lives could be going unnoticed and could use a little love and attention? Do you have a sick relative who would be delighted to get a visit from you? Is there someone at your work who is struggling and could use a helping hand? Is there someone at your school who has trouble making friends and would appreciate it if you sat with him or her in the cafeteria? Is there a poor person asking for hand outs at the light on your way to work whom you could give a dollar to and let know that someone cares for him? Each of us knows such people. They are Jesus approaching us in disguise and asking us if we love him. Even though our society has little use for them, they are God's precious children worth more to him than we can ever know.
What makes a person important in God's eyes? We know that wealth, beautiful homes and powerful positions cannot impress the all-powerful God who created the universe with all its wonders. To impress God it takes a loving heart willing to go out of its way for those who cry out for our help. At the end of time, the world with all its glory will be wiped away. Everything we thought was important will be no more. We will each stand naked before the God who created us, and we will be judged on how we loved the poor people he placed in our lives. Today can be the day when we confess to God that we have been busy trying to impress the wrong people. And today can be the day when we begin to ask him to open our eyes and our hearts to those in our families, in our places of business, in our schools and in our communities who are truly in need and who, therefore, are truly important and deserving in his eyes.