for Sunday, September 19, 2021
Who would be the top dog? Who would be the greatest one on the Mountain? Would it be James or John, Peter or Andrew? Jesus called them aside. They didn't know what greatness was.
Dan Mazur knew, though. Dan Mazur is a professional mountain guide. He is one of many who lead people on the ascent up Mount Everest, the steepest mountain in the world, 29,029 feet. Now, in case you are thinking of climbing Mount Everest for your next vacation, be prepared to pay up to $100,000 each to attempt to reach the summit. Also, you need to be in top physical shape. You have to show that you spent months in rigorous training. Some suggest that you spend three years turning yourself into a well-honed athlete. The government of Nepal where Everest is located demands that you take a special course in trekking along with paying $11,000 for a permit to make the climb. So with all this done, you have to fly to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, and then hike ten days just to get to the Everest Base camp, about 17,500 feet. You would have to do this in May because there are only a few weeks between the worst of the winter storms and the summer monsoons. From the base camp you have to climb to Camp 1 at 19,500 feet. That is followed by a 1,500-foot climb to Camp 2 and a 2,000-foot climb to Camp 3. From here the air is so thin that you will have to use oxygen tanks to make it to Camp 4 at 26,300 feet. Now you have made it to the death zone where at least 300 climbers have died from the temperature, the altitude, running out of oxygen, falls and avalanches, sudden storms, heart attacks, frostbite, snow blindness, and hypothermia. If you make the dash to the summit, you will still have to face the equally dangerous descent. Hey, but you get a T-shirt.
I think all these details are necessary to get the full impact of Dan Mazur's story. Early one morning in May, Mazur was struggling alone with two well-paying clients on an ascent up to Mount Everest. They were only two hours from the summit, 28,094 feet up with just another 835 feet to go. Then they saw a dot of colored fabric in the distance. At first they thought it was a tent, but they soon realized that it was an abandoned climber. The climber was an Australian named Lincoln Hall. Hall had made it to the top, but during the descent he became gravely ill from oxygen deprivation. His two Sherpa guides tried to help him, but they felt forced to leave him to save themselves. When they arrived to safety, they declared that Hall was dead. But Hall wasn't dead. Somehow, he had managed to survive the night without gloves, jacket, sleeping bag, oxygen or food. He had perched himself on a small ridge, a two foot by two-foot space. He could easily have dropped 8,000 feet on one side or 6,000 feet on the other side. Hall was hallucinating when Mazur approached him. Mazur and the others spent the next four hours pulling Hall away from the slopes, giving him bottled oxygen, food and liquids. While they were working hard to save him, two Italian climbers past them on the way to the summit. Mazur asked them to help, they just said that they didn't speak English. Right. They certainly weren’t the first to behave this way. Only eleven days earlier, a David Sharp died 1,000 feet into his descent. Dozens of people walked right past him, unwilling to risk failing on their own ascents. Mazur radioed the base camp for help. Some of the Sherpas there finally made it to them. They helped save Hall, but by that time Mazur and his clients were too exhausted to attempt the peak themselves. Their supplies were depleted. They couldn't wait for another day. They had to return without completing the climb. Mazur would not receive his full commission. But Mazur said that he had no regrets. "You can always go back to the summit, but you only have one life to live. If I had left that man to die, that would have been on my mind for the rest of my life. How could I live like that?"
So, who was the greatest on the mountain? Was it the Italians who made it to the top? Or the others who walked past David Sharp? Or was it Dan Mazur and the people with him who spent a great deal of money, time and energy and who found a summit 835 feet below the pinnacle of Everest? Their money, time and effort were not wasted. They had conquered Everest without reaching the top of the peak. Dan Mazur knew what greatness was. He and those with him put aside their own dreams of conquering Everest for the sake of a fellow climber.
Who would be the greatest among the disciples? Who would make it to the top? Would it be James, John, Peter, or Andrew? They did not know what greatness was. They would learn though. Jesus would show them greatness from a cross. That was the message that Jesus was trying to get across to his disciples after he heard them arguing about who should be first in the Kingdom of God. He said that the first shall be last and servant to all. He put his arms around a child as an example of work, child care, that might seem to be beneath the dignity of the great men they thought they would become. For Jesus to be great was to serve.
Jesus calls us to be his disciples, His true followers. He calls us to set aside our own desires for the sake of others. He calls us to seek the greatness of humble generosity, to "rank first" among our families, friends and communities by taking on the spirit and role of being their servant. "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be last of all and the servant of all." The jealousy and selfish ambition that attacks the just man in the Book of Wisdom in our first reading this Sunday, and that James berates in the second reading are the sad marks of the identification of the godless, people who have rejected God and His Son. The sign of the Christian is seen in his or her setting another's needs over his or her wants.
We are all called to do this, continually. Every day, every moment of the day you and I are called to consider others over ourselves. The needs of the children, the sick, the poor and the elderly call us away from ourselves and call us into Jesus. Every day we have to resist the temptation to selfishness, the temptation to put ourselves before others. Every day we are called to greatness by conquering a mountain much more difficult than Everest. We have to conquer ourselves. Every day we are called to be the Presence of Jesus for others.
And the infant cries. And the girl with the MBA gets up to nurse him and change him. Her education was worth it. Someday she may go back to the office, but she has learned greatness through sacrifice. And the retired man spends at least eight hours a day making sure his wife suffering from dementia has care and company. He had learned a lot in his life. Now he is a teacher. He is teaching the rest of us what greatness is. And the young single walks away from the bar scene, the wild scene, and becomes an AIDS buddy. He is a great person, using his time to provide care for the dying.
The goal of our lives is union with God. The strength to achieve this union comes from Jesus Christ on the cross. He made Himself weak so we could be strong. We pray today for this strength, the strength to reach out to others in charity, the strength to ascend the Mountain of God.
Readings of the day:
First Reading: Wisdom 2.12, 17-20
Second Reading: James 3.16 - 4.3
Gospel: Mark 9.30-37
This material is used with permission of its author, Rev. Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino, Diocese of St. Petersburg, FL. Visit his
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