True Greatness is Not What You Think
Imagine for a moment you are at a lavish dinner party with your boss and fellow coworkers. The party is held in the private dining room of the city’s most exclusive country club. It is not a scene you experience on a regular basis: a delicious dinner combined with an ethereal atmosphere. What could be better? Of course, people are talking shop. The CEO shares with everyone how well the company has done over the past several years and his vision for the company in the future. You are listening intently when the ethereal atmosphere takes a dramatic turn. He reports there is someone seated in the dining room who is embezzling large sums of money from the company, even sticking his greedy hand into each employees’ personal information. Your very identity could be in jeopardy. Somebody will not be at the office on Monday morning.
You are stunned. Who could be so self-absorbed and cold natured? Immediately, you wonder who it could be. It is probably the sketchy newbie in accounting with the Harvard MBA, who couldn’t tie a Windsor knot to save his life. There’s always been something you didn’t trust about him. Or maybe it’s that woman with a run in her hosiery who is always complaining in the lunch room. She certainly seems like she has an axe to grind against the world. As you wonder to yourself, an argument breaks out among your coworkers.
“It’s not me, boss! You know I would never do anything to hurt you or this company!”
“Well, it’s not me either! I’m one of the most dedicated employees this company has ever had!”
“No, it’s not me! I’m banking for that promotion and raise. Why would I screw that up?”
What? You start to wonder about their self-absorption and tacky self-affirmations. When suddenly, before you can stop yourself…
“It wasn’t me either! I’m hoping to be named Senior Vice President of the company soon!”
It all goes downhill from there. So much for a lavish dinner party.
The scene isn’t too far removed from Luke’s account of the Last Supper (22:24-30). As Jesus shares with his disciples that one of them would betray him, an argument breaks out over who among them would be considered the greatest. How ridiculous! If they insist on having an argument, we would be more understanding if it were over what just happened in the Upper Room. Did the bread and wine actually become the Body and Blood of Christ? Or was Christ’s presence around, with, and in the bread and wine? Did they only represent the Body and Blood of Christ? That sort of argument would have made much more sense. But who is the greatest? Apparently, they didn’t learn their lesson in chapter nine:
Then his disciples began arguing about which of them was the greatest. But Jesus knew their thoughts, so he brought a little child to his side. Then he said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me also welcomes my Father who sent me. Whoever is the least among you is the greatest”
Here they were, arguing yet again over the same trivial question. As previously, Jesus knows what is in their hearts. But the disciples’ understanding of greatness is still askew. They were too wrapped up in the ways of their culture. In the ancient world, kings and other men of rank persistently used and abused their authority over their constituency. Although they used their authority to justify tyrannical, heinous acts, their governments were still referred to as “Benefactor” or “The Friend of the People.” Sound familiar?
Let’s return to the illustration of the dinner party. Your boss settles the clamor by pointing to the young high-school aged waitress, trying her hardest not to make her presence seem intrusive in an awkward situation. As she refills the water glasses, your boss says, “Do you really want to be a star employee? Learn a lesson from the one filling your water glass. She knows her job, and she does it well and faithfully. She isn’t worrying about becoming the proprietor of the country club, but who knows? You may be calling her about membership someday.” Likewise, Jesus gives his disciples a new ethic. Worldly striving for greatness is not the mark of discipleship. Instead, unclogging our crammed egos and striving for service is the mark of discipleship. The one serving the meal is the greatest in the banquet of God, and Jesus is our greatest example. He certainly hosted and served the banquet meal of the New Covenant. In doing so, he tells his disciples, “For I am among you as one who serves” (v. 27).
The Kingdom of God is not built on the foundations of “might makes right” or even “publish or perish.” Rather, it is built on the foundation of one simple act of service after another.
The season of Lent not only reminds us of our calling to serve, but it also intentionally brings us before the One Who has called us to serve. Our frail, misguided aspirations to greatness will only result in recurring ennui. It is so easy to buy the newest book on leadership or success, with its shimmering dust jacket, entirely convinced it will unlock the secret to being a great and effective leader. As important and valuable as leadership books may be, what it means to be a Christian leader must stem from the ultimatum Jesus gives: “You must become as the one who serves. Whoever is the least among you is the greatest.” Certainly, John the Baptist’s ethic of diminution, “He must increase and I must decrease,” still stands true.
Lent affords us an opportune time to discover true greatness once again by serving others in the name Jesus. As we do so, we will soon find the ways of Jesus are still contrary in our world as they were in his. Yet as we stay with him in his time of trial throughout the duration of this season, we will soon find that Jesus has granted us a Kingdom, where he is the host and the servant who calls us to feast at his table once again.
Now doesn’t that sound truly great?
Keith Turner is a faithful contributor to Soul Care Collective.