“If there is one word in the English language that is sure to cause a debate, it is the word “greatest,” says a renowned writer. We all have experienced this and know it is true. Ask two mechanics what is the greatest car. Ask parents what is the greatest school. Ask friends what is the greatest movie. They all have an answer, though these answers very likely may be different. There is something about the word “greatest” which strikes something inside of us that encourages a response. Greatness is a quality important to most of us. Greatness is something we care deeply about in our work, families, schools, and churches, etc.
But how do we define the concept of greatness in a person? Do we really know it when we see it? Jesus told us in Matthew’s gospel there would be those called the least in the Kingdom of God and others who would be called great in the Kingdom. Who are those least and great? We might not have been able to understand Jesus’ words if he hadn’t shown us countless examples in his three years on earth what greatness is in the eyes of God. Countless times he put his own needs and concerns aside and ministered instead to the sick, blind, confused, unlearned and others in need. That was greatness! Finally, over and beyond all those instances in his life, Jesus gave us the supreme example of greatness in going to the cross for us.
However, throughout his life Jesus showed us that in greatness there is a price involved. One author put it this way: “In a sense you do not ascend to greatness, but you descend to greatness.” That was what Jesus did! He taught us that greatness is not exalting yourself, but it is in humbling yourself. It is not catering to your own wants, needs, desires, and opinions and , thus, lifting yourself up. Jesus taught us greatness through his own sacrificial life. He also gave us a lesson on greatness by pointing out someone he labeled as a “greater prophet” – John the Baptist. And what did John tell his followers? We will recall that John made it clear that it was Jesus who would increase; he must decrease. John would be a lesson for us in how to go about relinquishing self-centeredness and sought-for power and live as he did, putting God’s way before our own dreams and ambitions.
Viewing the life, people and situations of his time, one of the biggest problems Jesus needed to confront was ambition, power and an inordinate desire to look great. These desires existed among the leadership of his time and even among those who were within the circle of his own followers. Father Roger Landry says that Jesus didn’t attempt to crush those desires, but to redirect them. He writes so beautifully: “Jesus didn’t want his followers to compete for seats at the table, but for a towel to wash another’s feet.” Translated — he wanted them seeking greatness in the virtues of the Kingdom.
To make this desire concrete, Jesus used an important phrase to tell us what greatness is really about – being a servant. He told us and actually exemplified being a servant throughout his life. Recall his words telling us that whoever wishes to be great must be a servant. That’s an interesting reversal! Jesus wanted us to understand that the singular intent of a servant is to fulfill the will of the one to be served. Similarly, greatness in the life of a Christian has only the will of the master, God, as his or her interest and desire. Christian servants’ lives and actions are measured by loving and giving, sacrifice and service for God and for others. It is giving over receiving and serving over being served — thus becoming focused on being great only in the eyes of God.
There’s a story told of a missionary in China. His name was John Schuck. John was attending his church one Sunday morning when they announced that there would be a special collection to support the foreign missions. As he listened to the preacher, God seemed to speak to John’s heart and reveal to him that he wanted him to serve as a missionary to the people of China. As the offering was being collected that day John scribbled a brief message on a tattered piece of paper he had in his pocket. While others were dropping bills and coins into the basket, John dropped that small piece of paper into the basket as it was passed by him. After the service, while the money was being counted, a note was discovered that simply read, “Myself—John Lewis Schuck.”
In a very true sense this is the offering God is asking from every one of us. Of course, not necessarily to pack up and go to a mission country. But, God does want us to simply give ourselves. God wants us to become great in the act of giving, of serving daily. It is only when we give ourselves both to God and to the needs of his people that we experience what is meant by greatness!
Let us remember: We are made for greatness! Jesus led the way!
May 13, 2018
Sister Lauretta Leipzig