Every day on the Internet, there are all kinds of lists. Top ten quarterbacks to ever play the game. Top five most selective colleges in the country. Five most effective U.S. Presidents. Ten fastest growing cities in the Southeast. Top five best paying jobs for new graduates. There are rankings all over the place. It’s a game, but one that can impact careers, create celebrity, and determine respect.
These lists or rankings are theoretically designed to help us determine who or what is the best at something — who or what is the greatest. In any organization, there is a chart that ranks people or positions from top to bottom. Jesus’s apostles weren’t above playing the game or perhaps gaming their organization.
In Matthew 18, Mark 9, and Luke 9, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus called a little child to him and said, “Whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
James and John weren’t satisfied. They wanted a special place in the kingdom, one at Jesus’ right hand and the other at his left. The other ten apostles were indignant. Jesus called them all together and said, you don’t get it. “[W]hoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” (Matthew 20:21-28; Mark 10:35-45; Luke 22:24-29) See also Matthew 23:1-12.
As Jesus did with many things, he turned rank, greatness, and status on their heads, together with the apostles. Since we live in a world that highly regards and rewards greatness, do we still have trouble equating greatness with service? Are we Jesus’ humble servants? Are we the greatest?