An argument arose among the disciples about which of them was the greatest. Aware of their deepest thoughts, Jesus took a little child and had the child stand beside him. Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me. Whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever is least among you all is the greatest.”
Over and over in the gospels, we read how the disciples argued among themselves about who was the greatest (Mark 9, Luke 9 & 22, Matthew 18). I imagine there were many days where Jesus must have just walked away, shakng his head in frustration: “they just don’t get it.”
These verses come hard on the heels of a another story about a demon-possessed boy that the disciples could not help. You walk away from that story with a distinct impression that instead of being chastened by their failure, they made excuses and dug in: “I’m still better than you, James!”
It’s human nature to compare ourselves with others. Maybe there’s something helpful about it, spurring us to be better. But more often, these comparisons are just a distraction, a source of resentment, jealousy and frustration. The more time we spend watching others, the more depressed we get. If you look, you’ll always find someone “better” than you are.
Jesus’ solution? Don’t try to be the greatest. Instead, consider what it would mean to be the least. That seems very difficult to do – none of us is striving for mediocrity, are we?
That’s not what this is about. Instead, it’s about looking at the world through a different lens that sets our privileges aside in favor of service. Seen this way, it’s not so hard to do. Sit with someone who is feeling left out. Take on the responsibilities no one else wants. When everyone else is busy talking up their accomplishments, don’t talk about yourself but about the gifts you see in your colleagues and friends.
If you set out looking for greatness, you’ll never obtain it. Real greatness, Jesus says, is found in making yourself small in your own eyes.
For Pondering & Prayer
Why is it important for God’s people to lose their obsession with greatness?
Today, look for one way that you can practice being “the least.” Give up your place in line. Pay a compliment to someone who has done something well, without fishing for one yourself. Strike up a conversation with someone whom you would normally walk by. Then reflect: what did this teach you about greatness?
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