The Greatness Question:
Was Jesus really the wisest teacher of all?
Did the way He live out His short life revolutionise our world?
The writers of the four books we call the gospels shared stories that made themselves look less than stellar. They had no shame in doing so. They were goobers, spiritually inept. One thing can be said though, when in the presence of greatness, they knew it, and thus it mattered not how clumsily insignificant they came off looking in the annals of history. What mattered most was the story. They all knew to the very last of them that the one who was in their midst was no ordinary rabbi. Here’s a Christ (not Jesus last name, by the way!) that breaks all the rules, gets all the religious establishment gunning for him and leaves everyone in awe. One of the more awkward disciples, Peter, would soon say what Jewish culture considered blasphemy and ascribe to Jesus the status of “Godhood!” In Peter’s eyes, Jesus was that good!
My friend David Hazard tells the story of one of his church members at the time who was on the same plane as the renowned Pittsburgh Penguins. She knew absolutely nothing about hockey. She unwittingly bumped in Mario Lemieux, (known as Super Mario and one of history’s most talented forwards) and after some small conversation about hockey, she asked, “So Mario, are you any good?” Ha! Are you any good? I think Mario answered something like, “Yeah, I’m not bad!”
We all love talking about the greatest this or that. A conversation starter often is like this, “What’s the greatest movie, book, leader of all time?” We’d answer, “Yeah, that wasn’t bad.” It was also the conversation starting question that the disciples asked Jesus on more than one occasion, “Jesus, who is the greatest in our gang?” I think you know that this line of questioning is a troubling one. The need to be great and remembered has ruined many a man!
The way Jesus answers their question surprises. Jesus begins by saying, “Unless you change… (change what?) your way of thinking about greatness…” (Mathew 18:3) Oh, by the way, did you know that the word, “repent,” actually means to change your way of thinking. Now that might surprise a lot of people who think repenting is crying over bad choices and deeds. Not really! It begins with a turn around in the way we think, perceive and understand.
Wrong thinking is what we call stinking thinking and that smell pervades how we, like every society, elevate and grovel before leaders. Even in the context of church life have you noticed how hierarchies, status building, elitism and hero worship still remain today? Be clear about it, it was never meant to be that way. Jesus flips the script on His followers and says, “Keep thinking that way and you are not going to amount to much in the Kingdom!” And because Jesus wants us to repent (change our thinking on this issue) He does the unthinkable, grabs a little child and says, “Unless you become like this kid, you will never be great in God’s eyes.”
Think about this physical metaphor in the eyes of Jesus’ followers. In light of what we know of the culture in Jesus’ day, it was a culture that focused around adults. There was little catering to children in that day. The disciples didn’t even like having these twerps take up any of Jesus’ time. And Jesus, with the child in his arms, implicitly says, “This is the best model of leadership I know, the one standing before you right now, this kid!” Imagine that! There before them was a kid who enjoyed no status, no rights, no entitlement and had little inclination to push to get to the top.” Children own their littleness. That is the purest way to lead Jesus says.
I am sure there is nothing wrong with wanting your life to count, even wanting greatness in some form! However, can I say is like this, greatness should be defined as humility joined with awesome potential and confident love.
Maybe the most revolutionary thing Jesus did in the eyes of His inner circle was on the night he was betrayed, in that upper chamber filled with food, sweat and dirty feet.The narrative says Jesus knew where He had come from and was going and knew that the Father had given Him true leadership over all, (John 13:3). The food was ready for enjoyment. Custom said that feet needed to be washed before food was consumed. But there was no one to wash their dirty feet. Immediately, without hesitating, Jesus hangs up his robes, takes the towel and begins washing their feet. Of course it is the proudest of the bunch, Peter, that remonstrates and refuses the water and towel on his dirty feet, “You really want to go down that far, Jesus?”
And Jesus says, “This is how we do it in my Kingdom.”
Peter, who we keep using as a less-than-stellar example, learned humility the hard way, lousy embarrassing failure! But eventually Peter, after repeated red-faced anguished moments, learned it and afterwards he wrote a letter to all his friends about it, using prose like this,“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”
Most run from the way and posture of humility, it’s not human nature to want live under the greatness of another. Yet it must begin with us. It begins with the bedrock realisation that we are alive in our world and in the presence of the Greatest One that has ever been. No more posturing or needing to impress the masses or even a handful because, heck, we know we lost the ‘greatness competition’ already! Nothing we could do could really impress the One who knows all and is the greatest. We must find a way to hang up our robes of grandeur and humble ourselves by trusting that we are already loved, worthy and in are included in His-story.
I finish with the repeated reminder that greatness is not about big bank accounts, world travels or how successful we appear before our peers and our world. I actually laughed when I wrote this last sentence as I thought of Jesus’ bank account on earth, He never even barely stepped out of that tiny swath of land called Israel and in the end it look like he lived a life that was a complete failure. Ironic. Yet this wounded one carries today an authority unmatched. This man that emptied himself of all status, trusted His Father, quite like a child, to make the story of his life bring the change needed to millions upon millions of people. I am one of those people. He was and still is that good! Revolutionary.