Redefining what it means to be great

Pride is essentially competitive; it’s competitive by its very nature.  We are not prideful because we are rich, clever, or good-looking.  We are prideful because we think we are richer, clever-er, and better-looking.  It’s the comparison that makes us proud.

C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity

In Mark 9, the disciples are debating who’s greatest in the kingdom.  They’re debating who God loves more.  And it’s competitive by nature.  C.S. Lewis calls this pride, and scripture says it is the deadliest of all sins.

Pride is to think you are better, more righteous, and more important than the person beside you.  It is to think you deserve something no one else does.  It is to look in the mirror and see more than what is actually there.

And I think this is why the disciples, when Jesus asked what they were talking about, remained silent.  They looked upon the face of Christ and admitted with shameful silence that they were debating their place in the kingdom.  So Jesus, in agony for his beloved friends, takes a seat, calls everyone to him, and says, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”  Then he took a little child and put her among them; and taking her in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

In other words, the greatest is not the most stately, kingly, or rich.  The greatest is the one who rejects such accolades to become a servant to those around.  The greatest welcomes the stranger as family.  The greatest sees herself as equal to a child and becomes a servant with child-like grace.

When we see our role in the kingdom as servant instead of served, we stand the chance to be great, for greatness is not defined by success or failure but rather love and grace.  Scripture says when we welcome strangers, children, and all human beings alike, we welcome Jesus, and not just Jesus but also the one who sent Jesus.

And it’s here we learn how to redefine what it means to be great.  Greatness looks at humanity and sees everyone as equal.  It avoids arrogant comparisons, silences the need to feel powerful, and rejects the desire to be seen as spectacular.  Not confusing greatness with pride is what Jesus teaches the disciples (and inevitably us) in Mark 9.

We should probably read this section of scripture more.

Barrett Owen

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Barrett Owen is the associate director of admissions at Mercer University's McAfee School of Theology and pastor of National Heights Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga. He blogs weekly at Liminality: Exploring the holy, in-between spaces.

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