Who is the Greatest? Reflections on Mark 9:30-37

Who is the greatest?

I follow the Australian Football League, and my team was privileged (having finished last in the competition last season) to be able to select the number 1 draft pick. In the lead up to the draft, there was speculation and comparison about who the best talent was.

We have this thing about wanting to know who the best is. We want to know who is the top of the tree, and not only who is the best emerging AFL talent. And I think this taps into something that is very human.

I think everyone has this sense of the need to be significant. Whether it’s comparing the great people out there, or just within ourselves. We want our lives to count. We want to be more than average. We want a legacy and in some way make a difference through our lives.

What does Jesus say about this? What is the road to greatness in the eyes of Jesus?

Is it all about climbing the ladder of career? Achieving the pinnacle of some pursuit? Or if we are seen by others as a success?

Mark chapter 9:30-37 says:

30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Jesus often has a way of turning our values upside down. Jesus says that if we are to be great, we need to be last. To illustrate this point, he brings in one of the young children around him, a toddler probably. Someone, in those days, who wasn’t valued as great in the eyes of society. Greatness is seen by humility, the way you welcome the least of all. Greatness comes along a pathway of humble service.

Serving those who are higher up the food chain might get you personal credit. Getting noticed by the boss, by putting in the extra hours, might come back to you in some way. Serving people who are considered to be the least, normally won’t gain you any reputation.

Jesus turns our status seeking, ladder climbing, influencer ranking, upside down. The littlest is the most important in the eyes of God, and in his kingdom. The unimportant in the eyes of the world, are the most important in the eyes of Jesus.

This attitude reflects who Jesus is and what he came to do. Jesus came not to seek worldly status, but as a servant. It’s only when we receive Jesus and his humble service for us, as the Messiah, his suffering and his cross, it’s only then that we welcome the Father.

How we treat others, shows us if we’ve truly understood God’s grace to us in Jesus. It shows us whether we’ve understood the gospel.

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