When Jesus asks what the disciples have been arguing about on the way to Capernaum, they fall into an embarrassed silence. Like children, they had been arguing about which one of them is the greatest. Jesus’ question reminds them that they know better.
Let’s face it. We’re a lot like them. Despite our pretensions of humility, a tiny tyrant lives inside most of us, shouting, “I’m the greatest!” Author Ayn Rand said this was a good thing, that self-promotion would ultimately lead to a better world. Jesus says exactly the opposite.
He knows that what humans call greatness too often comes only at someone else’s expense. If I become number one, then no one else can be more than number two; and if everyone tries to be number one, the world is reduced to an amoral mass of individuals who will destroy one another as they compete for pre-eminence. The struggle to be first serves nothing beyond the self. It does not call us to heal the sick or mend the broken or share the good news. Its only aim is to exalt the self, and when that is accomplished, its work is done.
Jesus says it is not by being first that we find greatness. It is by being last. Then he turns their childish debate on its head by putting a child before them.
Welcome this child, he tells them, and you will welcome me. Welcome me, and you will welcome the Father. To welcome a great leader would give them the envy of others. To welcome a king would give them status and power. But to welcome a child would give them nothing.
Nothing, that is, except true greatness. For, as Jesus said, those who welcome a child, welcome him and the Father who sent him.
Where is your greatness? For what do you most want to be remembered?
God, help us conquer the desire to be great and cultivate the desire to serve. Amen.