Teaching his disciples about what constitutes true greatness in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus presented a child before them as symbol of its nature, meaning and value (cf. Matt 18, 1-5).
Obviously a normal child is characterised by being both humble and serviceable. This is seen in the ever readiness to undertake any errand from anyone older than him/her, both from the family or outside it.
We can thus say that humility and service are symbolised by salt and light that Jesus used to describe the audience during his teaching on the Mountain (cf. Matthew 5-7). Below is an illustration of this assumption with the story of The Most Beautiful Bamboo that explains greatness.
The Most Beautiful Bamboo
There was one time a very beautiful and wonderful garden located at the west of a village in the middle of a great Kingdom. The gentleman, who owned the garden, had the habit of making a walk in the garden each day, when the heat of the day became rather unbearable.
Growing in this garden was a bamboo of a noble appearance. In fact it was the most beautiful of all the trees of the garden and the gentleman thus loved this bamboo more than all the other plants. Year after year, this bamboo grew and became always more beautiful and delightful. The bamboo itself knew quite well that its owner loved it and he is happy about it.
On a welcoming day, the thoughtful gentleman approached his admired tree and, as a sign of great veneration on its part, the tree bowed down the head. The gentleman said to the tree: “Dear bamboo, I need you.” It seemed to the bamboo tree that perhaps the day of all days had come at last, the day for which it was born. Thus with great joy, but in an undertone, the bamboo responded: “O gentleman, I am ready. Do with me whatever you wish.”
“Dear bamboo”, the voice of the gentleman became serious, “in order to use you I must cut you down.” At this the bamboo became scared, really frightened. “To cut me down, gentleman? Me, that you have brought up such that I have become the most beautiful tree of your garden? No, I beg your pardon, no! Make use of me according to your interest, gentleman, but I beg you not to cut me down.”
“My dear bamboo”, said the gentleman, and as he spoke, his voice became rather more serious, “if I cannot cut you down, then it means that I cannot make use of you.”
A great silence then fell in the garden. Even the wind ceased, while the birds stopped singing. Slowly, much slowly the bamboo again bowed deeper its wonderful head. Then it whispered: “Gentleman, if you cannot make use of me without necessarily cutting me down, then do with me what you wish and go ahead and cut me down.”
“My dear bamboo”, the gentleman repeated, “I must not only cut you down, but in addition, I must remove the leaves and trim the branches as well.” “O gentleman”, said the bamboo, “do not do that to me. Let me at least maintain the leaves and the branches.” “If I cannot trim you, I cannot make use of you”, said the gentleman.
At that moment, the sun vanished from the sky while the anxious birds flew away. The bamboo trembled and said, with a very feeble voice: “Gentleman, go ahead to trim the branches and pick the leaves.”
“My dear bamboo, I must again do more. I must split you in two and rend the heart. If I cannot do so, then I cannot make use of you.” The bamboo, at that moment, could no longer talk, and only bowed to the point of prostrating itself on the ground.
The gentleman cut the bamboo down, trimmed the branches, picked the leaves from it, split it in two – that is rending its heart. Then the gentleman carried the bamboo to the spring of fresh water that was near to his dry fields. There, the gentleman tactfully placed the beloved bamboo on the ground; such that one end of the trunk is connected to the fount of water; the other end he directed toward his dry fields.
The spring provided water and, through the means of the split bamboo, the water emptied itself onto the field which had so much been expecting water. Rice was sown and, with the passage of days, the crop grew and soon the time for the harvest came. In this way, the wonderful bamboo actually became a great blessing in all its humility and poverty.
Saint John the evangelist reported Jesus as saying that there is no greater love than for one to lay down his/her life for the friends (cf. Jn 15,13). Really, it is only out of a selfless love (agape) that one can sacrifice even to the point of offering the real life. Therefore selfless and humble service to the neighbour and community constitutes one into salt of the earth and light of the world. Greatness is determined by the measure of placing one’s talents at the disposal of and service for the community.
As long as the bamboo admired its beauty and magnificence, it lived and grew for itself alone without influencing others. On the contrary, in its poor and dismantled state, the bamboo had become a linking canal which the gentleman used to transform his arid land into his fertile kingdom. Greatness according to the kingdom of heaven really lies in the selfless and humble service to others. So long as you continue to admire and glory in yourself, your greatness is limited to you alone and impede your chance of being the salt and light of the community.