Who are the true greats? You may be surprised who they are because you know many of them by name. They live in your neighborhood.
Let’s find out what the basic ingredient of true greatness is.
Let’s look at Mark 9:30-37 and get help from Jesus.
Mark 9:30 Leaving that region, they traveled through Galilee. Jesus didn’t want anyone to know he was there, 31 for he wanted to spend more time with his disciples and teach them. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies. He will be killed, but three days later he will rise from the dead.” 32 They didn’t understand what he was saying, however, and they were afraid to ask him what he meant.
33 After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you discussing out on the road?” 34 But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.” 36 Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”
What was Jesus Continually Teaching?
In vs. 30 Jesus returns home to Galilee. From here he will go to Capernaum and then on to Jerusalem where he will be “delivered” into the hands of men. The Greek word anthropos in vs. 31 actually refers more completely to Jesus being delivered into the hands of the human race as a whole. He may have been referring to Isaiah 53:6, 12 where it is prophesied that God laid on him our sins. Jesus teaching the disciples is an imperfect verb, meaning he was continually teaching them. It is the same with the verb said; Jesus kept saying these things on more than one occasion. Vs. 31 is the heart of Gospel preaching, Jesus’ betrayal, passion and resurrection. In vs. 32 it is the same with the verb understand; the disciples continually failed to understand him. All this means that Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem had an air of loneliness to it.
What is True Greatness?
Vs. 33-50 are a natural packet with the concluding phrase “live in peace with each other,” which obviously points back to the strife of vs. 33-34. Our discussion here ends halfway through this section, leaving the rest for another time. On the road, the disciples had been disputing. Jesus’ question about their “discussion” opens the way for his teaching. The disciples were ashamed and did not answer, because they were arguing over their own greatness, while Jesus had been talking about giving himself. How must Jesus have felt preparing for his death and all the disciples can think of is who is the greatest? But, Jesus knows our human feebleness and patiently instructs them about true greatness. The greatest serves everyone else. Contrast this with the so-called greats of this world who can be demanding and arrogant. Look around at the people we know in our own community. See those who serve. They exhibit true greatness.
Who is a Minister?
In vs. 37 the language of welcoming is mentioned four times. It is the language of inclusion that is central to the Church. It is the language of God welcoming us into his family. This is the essence of the Christian pilgrimage, as we journey to heavenly Jerusalem, we welcome others into the fold. The disciples thought about personal glory. They again missed the point of the cross. The way to true greatness is self-sacrifice. Service is always a sacrifice. Jesus gave his life for everyone and so has the highest place (Philippians 2:5-8). In Aramaic, the same word means child and servant. Jesus illustrates this word-play by placing a child in their midst. When we become like these little ones, we develop the true child-like greatness found among God’s children/servants/ministers. When we receive such little children/servants/ministers in his name, we receive Christ and the Father. Being sent in Jesus’ name is legally the same as Jesus being present. Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life for many (Mark 10:45). Who is a minister? Just the pastor? No, everyone who serves is a minister.
Are there truly Great People in your Neighborhood?
Look around you and see the greatest among us. A truly great person is a mother who gives life to a child that many may not want, or who adopts someone else’s child as her own, who spends 20 years of her life putting on diapers, feeding, clothing and educating that child in life’s most important basics, then spends the rest of her life praying for and thinking about her child every day. A truly great person is a father who may work at a job he hates because he loves those at home more than he hates the sacrifice he must make every day, who in tenderness gives himself in loyalty and self-sacrifice to one woman and falls more deeply in love with her every day, who spends time with his family as the most important people on the planet.
Are there Other Truly Great People?
A truly great person can also be single, who because they have the freedom and time may dedicate themselves to military, civil or other service to humanity. A truly great person is loyal to God and country and is ready at a moment’s notice to defend us against all enemies. A truly great person is every police officer who is an honorable guardian of the peace, takes no bribe and shows no bigotry or favoritism. A great person is a nurse who may clean up after grumpy patients with a smile. A great person is a teacher who instructs our children faithfully even when they are too tired to continue. While most of history is written by bullies and those brave soldiers who defended us against them, these mostly anonymous people have a legacy that is pure and a reward in heaven greater than that of greedy and selfish people with money, power and fame. Many of you are among the truly great and I count it a privilege to have journeyed with you for a time.
True greatness comes in all shapes and sizes but always contains one essential ingredient: service to others.