Have you ever wanted to be great?
I think that’s been a dream of mine since I was little. One of my earliest ways of obtaining glory for myself was to become a great football player. As kids, we used to play at a strip of field at Kenwood Elementary School in Champaign, Illinois, only a block away from our house. I used to be very fast and quick (Mr. Outside), while my twin, Danny, was good at bulling his way through defenders twice his size (Mr. Outside).
Because I was fast, especially in long distances compared to my peers, I also wanted to be the world’s record holder in the mile. Jim Ryun was my hero, and he held the world record in the mile from 1966, at 3 minutes 51.1 seconds (I’m doing this from a 35-40 year old memory – I wonder if I’m right!), until 1975. But every year more of my peers seemed to be as fast, and I knew it was all over in 7th grade when a stupid sprinter almost caught me in the mile during P.E. class. The best mile I ever ran was a 5:26.
I’ll spare you my foray into politics but feel I must make mention of my desire to obtain glory by becoming a famous writer. I’ve always wanted to write, ever since I was in second grade and in fifth grade started on a novel about a fictitious family that sounded suspiciously like my own, except that the twins were not named Danny and Charlie but Danny and Danny (this way, there was comedic material in the confusion of names, as well as a way for me to exempt myself from the stupid things the kids in novel did). Somehow, my first novel, Tomorrow is for No One, never found a publisher, much less make me a famous novelist.
There’s a part of me that still wants to be great. But if not as a football player, miler, politician, or writer – then what? Maybe there’s another way to think about human greatness.
Who are the great men and women of history?
Most naturally, we might think of people like Julius Caesar, Hannibal, Charlemagne, Napoleon, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln. Some might more naturally think of people like Albert Einstein, Louis Pasteur, William Shakespeare, Beethoven, or Picasso. We might think of world leaders or even some of the heroes of the Bible.
But Jesus’ teaching on greatness calls into question the standard by which we measure greatness. Greatness, in our common understanding of greatness, comes in a number of different varieties. We call some great simply because of the magnitude of their accomplishments. Julius Caesar and Napoleon are generally considered to be “great,” based on the magnitude of their dreams and successes. As grand as their achievements are by certain standards, there’s a part of us that realizes that world conquest and domination is not a good measure of greatness. We know this because we would stop short of calling Adolph Hitler great, in spite of his incredible achievements.
Some are great because they have nearly superhuman powers: Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Usain Bolt, and a host of other athletes we idolize. Others are great because they’re excellent at what they do: Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and the scientists, writers, composers, and artists such as those I listed above.
All of these are great in their own way. And all of them will pass away with this earth.
But today Jesus offers wannabe great men like myself a way to achieve true and permanent greatness. The funny thing is that it’s 180 degrees away from the normal paths to human greatness. Normally, greatness begins and ends with me. I’m great because I’ve done this. It’s all about me and what I’ve done and the attention that people pay to me.
Not so in Jesus’ kingdom. “Whoever desires to be great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave.” As many times as I’ve read, heard, and meditated on this passage, it still jars me. Not as much as it used to, but it jars me, because it is so contrary to everything the world tries to teach me. In fact, to most people it will probably sound nonsensical. How can being a servant – or slave – be a path to greatness?
It depends on how you measure greatness. If your goal is to have everyone bow before you and serve you, then serving is a lousy path to greatness. But if your goal is to be like God and to share in His far greater glory, then this is the path to glory.
I find great encouragement in this passage. I completely acknowledge how difficult this path is. There are times when I silently serve and almost begin to think to myself, “What a waste of my gifts and talents!” There are times when it seems as if no one recognizes the many sacrifices I make to serve others. I’m taken for granted, ignored, overlooked, and underappreciated.
I’m still not too crazy about it when the Lord asks me to serve in a capacity in which I know I’m not very good, but the truth is that I’ve sort of grown to like it. There’s something contagious about serving, something more mysterious and profound than mere human glory.
In fact, in my more lucid moments I realize just how joyful and glorious serving is because I realize that by serving I am being like my Master. And that’s what I really want, after all. What I really want is for the invisible audience of One to notice me and feel as if I’m pleasing to Him. For what seems like slavery and thankless drudgery here on earth is perfect freedom and laudable worship in heaven.
The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve. If I want Jesus, all of Jesus, then I must come to serve Him as He first served me. Everything about His life, from the way He was born, to the beginning of His public ministry and His teaching and healing, to His washing His disciples feet, to His praying for the disciples, to His Passion, to His Crucifixion scream out SERVICE AND SACRIFICE!
If that is how the King of Glory came to us, then that is how we must go to Him, where we will find greatness. The amazing thing is that He who is glory is willing to share that glory and greatness with me. I can have no true greatness and glory of my own, but because of the humility of God who became man and the sacrifice of the Cross, I have been offered true greatness and glory. But I have to share it, which in this case, is just fine with me.
Do you want the greatest glory and greatness of all? Then learn to be the servant of all. The greatest glory and most glorious greatness you could ever hope for is the glory and greatness of Jesus Christ. By serving Him, as He first served and by serving Him by serving others, you are united to Jesus Himself. And where is He? In the glory of the Father, at His right hand in heaven.
That’s what serving does, you know. Heaven and earth are usually invisible to each other, and sometimes this clouds our minds. On earth, serving in humility looks like an invisible and thankless way to nowheresville, while in heaven it is a visible and glorious sharing in the life of the Son. On earth, human greatness and success look great, but in heaven, it is often an invisible and insignificant thing. Human greatness is often invisible in heaven because often it has more in common with the Other Place than it does with Heaven.
I don’t need anything else today. I can still keep my dreams, if I want, but I’ve now got all I need. All I need is to figure out where the Lord wants me to serve today, for if I do this, then He shall call me great. And great I shall be!
Prayer: O Father, whose service is perfect freedom, help me to seek not to be served but to serve; help me to know the joy of laying down my life for You that You may raise me up. Show me where it is that I should serve today and help me to serve with joy and gladness, with diligence and devotion, remembering that it is You I serve in all I do. Unite my service to Jesus, my Lord’s, that I may share in His greatness today. Amen.
Points for Meditation:
1. How much do you desire greatness? What are the ways that you’ve been trying to achieve it? Are they God’s ways?
2. How has God served you today? Do your daily tasks today as if serving God, and remember the greatness He promises you!
3. Do you go to church more to serve or be served?
Resolution: I resolve to eat my daily bread today, serving however the Lord asks me to serve, that I may share in His greatness.
© 2012 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day