The road to greatness is paved in unexpected ways. In a culture that promotes self-interest at all cost, it seems to take us in the wrong direction. We are taught from an early age to shove aside anyone who hinders our success. Step on a few, destroy others. It is another dimension of Darwinism, the survival of the fittest. The ultimate goal is the top rung of the ladder, or so we are told. We do not realize that it is a delusion until we get there with a string of casualties behind us. “They” tell us something else, too: It’s lonely at the top.
Mrs. Zebedee wanted the best for her boys. Normal moms always do, and she requested the choicest seats in the kingdom for her sons (Matthew 20:20ff). The two were certain that they could measure up to the Lord’s example, and this whole scenario ruffled a few apostolic feathers. Ambition and intervention for these momma’s boys had rubbed the other ten the wrong way. Besides, that was not for Jesus to say. That decision was in other hands, but He knew the way to real success. It wasn’t what they thought.
Jesus offered up the ways of the world as an example but not as we might think. He did not instruct them to learn and imitate authoritarian oppression but to avoid it. Instead, the greatest assumes the role of a servant. Demand respect? Nowhere in the conversation. Humility runs throughout. The Lord did not discourage their aspirations, but He did redefine the means accomplishment. He didn’t just teach them; He showed them.
The life of Jesus was one of service from His birth in a stable to His death on a cross. He gave up the glory of heaven to endure temptation and torment at the hands of the enemy. He did not just preach it. He practiced it. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, raised the dead and washed feet. He did not just plead for forgiveness for the wayward and wicked. He loved, touched and forgave them. This, He said, is greatness. Now, you do it.
His servant mentality was never on greater display than on the cross. He agonized in the garden of Gethsemane as He felt the heavy burden of what lay ahead. He would take all of the sins of all people of all times on His shoulders. He alone was free of guilt, and He was the one punished. Forgiveness and reconciliation poured from His wounds. It was the price of being a servant. It is a costly commitment.
Service and sacrifice. It doesn’t fit neatly into our concept of what it means to be great. We will be out of step with our neighbors. Friends won’t understand. Giving without getting seems a little weird to them. Not to worry. God is looking, and He thinks it’s great.