St. Stephen Lutheran Church
In the 9th chapter of Mark, we peek in on the disciples wandering around the countryside following Jesus. And they start having one of those conversations that we all have when we're traveling somewhere and get bored. Who do you think is the greatest quarterback of all time? Which is the greatest rock band ever? What is the greatest movie from 1984? (I personally give the edge to "Ghostbusters" over "The Karate Kid"). Except the disciples don't know anything about quarterbacks, rock bands or movies, so they start talking about themselves:
"Which of us do you think is the greatest?"
"Well, Andrew helped heal that sick man."
"But Philip gave his sandals to that beggar AND walked with him to the well"
"Hey! Let's not forget that Simon Peter walked on water for a little while"
"But doesn't Jesus love John the best?"
"Well one thing is for sure it isn't Bartholomew."
And so they passed the time, arguing back and forth, until Jesus caught wind of the conversation.
What qualifies someone to be "the greatest?" We live in a culture that values being the best. Strive for the best. Give it all you've got. All or nothing. Go big or go home. If you're not in first place, you may as well be in last place. Second place is first loser. We are bombarded with messages like these on a daily basis. If you aren't the best, if you aren't the greatest, then you aren't anything. You might as well just stay home. But what does it mean to be the best? With everybody else out there striving to be the best and the greatest, it is often all-too-tempting to take a shortcut or to take advantage of someone else's weakness to get that leg up in our quest for greatness.
What does it take to be the greatest? Certainly it takes ambition and drive, but ambition and drive are very closely related to envy and selfishness. And when our ambition and our drive start to veer off course into envy and selfishness, that's when our quest to be the greatest manifests in negative ways and leads to conflict and dispute.
Jesus tells his disciples that whoever wants to be first must be last. Must be a servant of all. In other words, there's nothing wrong with wanting to be the greatest, but being the greatest does not look like what we think it does Being the greatest does not mean ruthlessly exploiting our neighbors to our advantage. James tells us that greatness "is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits."
How might we strive for greatness as a community? Not greatness as the disciples were discussing, but greatness on Jesus' terms, with gentleness, mercy and wisdom. What would Marshall look like if we took Jesus at his word, and became "great" in service to our neighbors?
May God grant us the grace to be great in service.