People are ambitious by nature, and ambitious people seek recognition and reward. The championship trophy for the greatest athlete, the adoring fans and lucrative contracts for actors and actresses; stock-options and country estates for successful businessmen and bankers; advancement in rank and ticker-tape parades for military heroes…great ambitions demand greater recognition.
Yet for Jesus’ followers, aspirations of greatness are sometimes criticized as lacking humility. Ambitious people are suspected of loving themselves more than God…of stealing a little bit of God’s glory for themselves...of being too worldly. Today’s scripture about “being greatest” and “being last” is an oft-quoted example of how Jesus despised ambition in his disciples. But did Jesus really feel this way?
Jesus in fact does not despise the desire to be “greatest.” Today’s lesson actually has Jesus giving us the very recipe for greatness: “If you want to be greatest of all do this.…” What Jesus did do is stand the world’s definition of greatness on its head. His teaching undercuts a basic human assumption about the nature of achievement. When it comes to influence and notoriety, we are to think small, not big. We are to think “serve,” not “get served.” We are to think of going a second mile instead of finding the most convenient rest stop.
The greatest heroes of our faith will not ever need to apologize for the recognition they receive in the fullness of God’s Kingdom. But in this age, when we yet await that fulfillment, greatness is often overlooked because it always serves. Simply and tirelessly. Are you ready to be great?