Being the Greatest
Based on Mark 9:30-37
Competition is fun and healthy, it can make us exercise and get fit where we would not usually do so. It can lead people to become lifelong members of sporting clubs and make great friends.
Even amongst competitions where we celebrate the winning team, we honour the best individuals. We have the Dally M Medal in Rugby league, the Brownlow medal in AFL, for the best players in their respective competitions, the Alan Border medal in Cricket, we have Emmy’s and Oscars and of course, we have just recently spent a bit of time in the Olympic mode, celebrating the very best of the best with gold medals.
Competition is something that people like to get behind, and it is an amazing feeling to be declared the very best. But it can also get out of hand, and there can be a negative side to it.
Thought for reflection: What is your greatest achievement? That of which you are most proud?
The disciples in today’s reading were arguing amongst themselves as they were walking along about who was the greatest amongst them.
As a child, did you ever have your parents ask you after a big fight with one of your siblings: “What were you arguing about?” Or perhaps we had an argument with someone at school and the teacher asked: “What are you arguing about?”
When you are asked to explain to it, sometimes you realise how ridiculous it sounds. So, like the disciples you would rather not say. Ever had that feeling?
Right throughout history, this desire to be the greatest person, or the greatest empire has ended in murder and war with total disregard to human life. We can see that the words in James 4 are true. James asks: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill.”
This has been happening for a long time, right back to the first family when Cain killed Abel because Abel’s offering was more acceptable to God than Cain’s. The desire to be the greatest ate away at Cain until Cain killed his brother.
James 3:13 says: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.’
The wisdom of God is that he sent Jesus who humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
God almighty humbled himself and took on human form in the person of Jesus Christ to be a servant so that no one should perish or be left out of his kingdom. The one who was the greatest that there ever was, or ever would be, gave all that up so that we could be great in the kingdom of heaven. So that everyone could.
Our Lord Jesus had only just told the disciples yet again that he would be handed over to suffer and die. The ultimate in humility. Yet they were still driven by this inner desire to be the greatest.
They did not understand that the Messiah, the one leading them, teaching them, was not seeking greatness, but has come serve, to suffer and die, that all may be saved.
And they still didn’t get it, so Jesus as he often did, decided that it was time for an object lesson.
He made a child come and stand in their midst. A child, who the disciples had tried to stop seeing Jesus once before, the act of standing in their midst implied equality with them.
Jesus is teaching us that there is no-one who is less deserving of Jesus love and forgiveness, and of having a place in his family. No one is less worthy because of their race, or gender, or social standing, or beliefs, or sexuality. To judge these people as less worthy is the opposite of God’s wisdom, and the humility that comes from it.
In the light of the perfection of God himself, and of his law, the truth is that there are none of us who are worthy, not one. And that is what every attempt to judge others as unworthy amounts to, doesn’t it, the belief that they are not worthy, and that we are, because we are in some way better than those others.
Romans 3:23 tells us that All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. All. From those who think they are the best to those who know they are the worst , those who can say with the Apostle Paul “sinners—of whom I am the worst.” That is the humility that comes from the wisdom of God.
Because it comes down to this: I am the worst sinner that I truly know. And you are the worst sinner that you truly know. Because I am the only one who I truly know. You are the only one who you truly know. I do not know the secret inner thoughts and evil desires and sins and failures of any other person like I know my own. So I am the worst sinner whose life I can do anything about. And you are the worst one that you know. And as long as we think that we can really know and judge someone else, we are lying to ourselves. And worse than that, we are hiding from ourselves, and trying to pretend that the sin in us is not real. That someone else’s is somehow worse than ours. And that means we are lying to God.
St. Paul considered himself the worst of sinners, as I am the worst of sinners I know, and you are the worst that you really know. But that phrase of St. Paul wasn’t there in isolation, it had some beautiful words before it:
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.
Doesn’t that change the way we see not ourselves, but God?
Even if I am the worst sinner, Jesus Christ came into the world to save even me!
Jesus, the ultimate best human being ever, perfection in human form, God in the flesh even humbled himself, not thinking of himself more highly than he ought, or even AS highly as he ought, became the least, so that we could become the greatest.
We call this the sweet swap. My evil for his goodness, my evil was placed on him and his goodness became mine and yours. My selfish ambition and envy and hate for his humility and love. My death for his life. My grave for his resurrection.
If we want to see the wisdom of God, and the humility of God, and the love of God, and the power of God, we look nowhere else than the cross of Jesus Christ. And there we are made clean. And there we are set free, and there the blood of Jesus cancels out the blood of Abel and all the bloodshed that our words and actions cause.
Next time we dare to judge or look down on others and consider ourselves GREATER than they, look first at the cross of Jesus Christ. Where the greatest became the least. What great love. What great humility. What wondrous love.