A dispute also arose among the disciples as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
Jesus and disciples came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve: and he said to them,”If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
In a recent political campaign, red baseball caps invited us to think about greatness. Those hats triggered conversation about what makes a nation great, explicit and implicit exploration resulting in insights that vary widely and wildly (to say the least).
Providentially, along comes Holy Week, with opportunity to consider what Jesus had to say about greatness. And as we continue our journey through the Gospel of Luke, reading it in this season of Lent (see this week’s assignments below), this coming Saturday we’ll read from the 22nd chapter. We’ll eavesdrop on conversation at the Last Supper, on the night before Jesus was arrested, tortured and executed. Jesus met with his disciples who were apparently playing politics, debating which one of them would be considered the greatest.
One can only imagine criteria they had in mind. Who was the greatest fisherman? Apparently none of them were very talented in this regard. Who was the best evangelist? Who did the most to fill the pews or increase number of pledging units? Who was the best speaker? Maybe Peter, who may not have been the best speaker but was certainly the most speaker. Who was the greatest critical thinker? Thomas of doubting fame? Who was the most spiritual, the best theologian? John, the beloved disciple? Who handled money best? Judas, perhaps? The dispute makes disciples look a bit silly, except that these kinds of conversation still happen all the time, in families, workplaces, churches, between denominations, among the religions of the world. “I’m holier than thou.” “Jesus loves you but I’m his favorite.”
When Jesus gets wind of this dispute, he takes the opportunity to offer his distinctive vision of greatness. As told in John’s Gospel, at this point, he gets up from the table and washes the disciples’ feet. Here in Luke’s gospel (in the passage above), he simply says to his disciples that if they are at all interested in discovery of greatness, it will come with service. Jesus speaks of the witness of the youngest among us, which led me to think of the compelling witnesses I saw on TV last week. I was moved by articulate young people standing in front of the nation’s capitol, the locus of greatness in many folks’ opinion, calling us all to address the moral challenges of our day.
Millenia after Jesus tried to knock some sense into his disciples, Martin Luther King, Jr. reflected on greatness. On April 4, we mark the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Thanks be to God, his grace and wisdom did not end that day. He speaks to us still. At one point, he addressed a group of students, folks with an open future. He offered this pathway to greatness. He said:
Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.
Everybody can serve. So everybody can be great. Maybe I’ll put that on a baseball cap. How will you live into that kind of greatness this week? Ask God to show you an opportunity to be of service. Our broken world presents plenty of those. Our broken world needs it.
Good Book Club readings this week:
- MONDAY, March 19: Luke 19:1-27
- TUESDAY, March 20: Luke 19:28-48
- WEDNESDAY, March 21: Luke 20:1-47
- THURSDAY, March 22: Luke 21:1-38
- FRIDAY, March 23: Luke 22:1-23
- SATURDAY, March 24: Luke 22:24-46
- SUNDAY, March 25: Luke 22:47-71
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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