I remember the one and only time I flew first class. It was so seductive. No waiting in line. Vastly more comfortable seats and being waited on hand and foot. I found myself thinking about the poor saps flying coach, honestly feeling quite superior in my position in “First class.”
When we think of somebody who is great, what do we think of? Donald Trump regularly claims he is a great businessman. Enough people seem to agree with this claim that he is the Republican nominee running for President of the United States. If you do a google search for “Great Men,” one of the first references is to an article on “25 of the Greatest Self-Made Men in American History” with Ben Franklin topping the list. Franklin certainly had great influence on the shaping and forming of what became the USA. If you do the same search only for “Great Women,” Cleopatra tops the list of “20 Great Women in History that Changed the World.” She was “Great” according to “EnkiVillage” for her efforts to save Egypt from the Roman Empire. And with position comes great privileges.
As I look at many of the the lists of “Great” people according to our popular culture, it doesn’t look much different from the list of “Great” people in Jesus’ day. Alexander “The Great” certainly would have topped the list along with other men of great wealth, power and influence.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee and the rest of the disciples were clearly thinking exactly along these lines when they asked to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand. They were asking to be his primary generals in the great battle they expected Jesus to fight against Rome and to be the primary recipients of glory, laud and honor after they all vanquished Rome and restored Israel to its former glory.
Jesus turns their and our thinking on their heads. According to Jesus, greatness in his kingdom is not achieved by brilliant contributions to science nor conquering vast lands. It’s not found by amassing wealth nor power. To be great by Jesus standards is found in outdoing each other in serving each other.
It reminds me of the story attributed to Rabbi Haim of Romshishok of Heaven and Hell. In Hell, there is a great banquet laid out for people. But, they are forced to eat with spoons so long, they can’t get the spoons into their mouths to feed themselves. In Hell, they are starving. In Heaven, the scene is exactly the same…except the diners feed each other across the table.
So, what do you think of when you think of what it means to be “Great?”