The Question of Greatness

A person enters a room where others are gathered.  Some are known, others are strangers.  In the first few seconds of acclimating to their new surroundings, they size up everyone in the room.  They even develop a rubric for defining and determining who in the room is above them on a social, political, or economic scale of position.  As well as who in the room is below them on a social, political or economic scale of position. 


All of this mental gymnastics will happen without any conscious effort.  It will come as naturally as breathing.  This person will combine their current perceptions of the world around them, with what they have been taught throughout their entire life.  And it will all be peppered with a healthy dose of desire.  A desire to be more, in this present moment.  


They will then make an emotional, highly rational from their perspective, judgment about the people and even the event itself.   This judgement will influence their social interactions from that point forward.  With whom they will socialize.  With whom they will avoid.  About what conversations they will have.  And about what conversations they will avoid.  They will even determine how much they will enjoy the whole process.  All of this before they even sit down and sip their first drink.


This phenomenon happens in every high school cafeteria, as well as corporate board room.  Homeless people at a shelter as well as guests at a black-tie fundraiser do this very same thing.  Everyone wrestles with the question of greatness.  Or thinking in terms of position and advancement.


All of this isn’t a matter of “If?”  It’s a matter of “When”.  Yet, it’s also a matter of how can I be aware of it?  And how can all of this be transformed in my life? 


In the gospel of Luke, the disciples go through this very same human exercise of position.  They argued with each other in Luke 9:46 about who would be the greatest.  Jesus realized how important it was for his disciples to determine their position of greatness within the group.  Jesus also knew how important it was for every human being to determine their position of greatness within any group.  So, he decided to teach a very important lesson. 


Jesus brought in a little child and had him stand beside him.  He then said “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.  For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.” (Luke 9:48)     


None of us naturally enter a room full of people and say, “How can I be the least among these people?”  We say, “How can I be the greatest among these people?”  Or, at least, we say “How can I be greater than some of these people?”  Knowing this and understanding that this is how we think, Jesus doesn’t teach his disciples (and us) to stop thinking this way, when we enter a room.  Jesus merely redirects our thinking.  Transforms us from the inside out.  He teaches his disciples (and us) that in order to be the greatest, we need to be the least. 


This is brilliant.  For it feeds the human need to define and determine a position of greatness, within social interactions. Yet, it transforms our definition of a position of greatness, within social interactions.  Your desired position of greatness can only be achieved by considering yourself the least of these.  As opposed to considering yourself greater than these.     


The former forces you to think of others before yourself.  The latter forces you to only think of yourself.  The former promotes humility.  The latter invites arrogance.  The former is unconcerned about social status and isn’t jaded by success or ambition.  The latter must be ambitious, so as to achieve greater social status and success.  The former builds community.  The latter builds hierarchy.  The former makes you great.  The latter simply makes you think that you are great. 


You will never be able to totally remove the question of greatness, in your social interactions.  No matter how hard you try, you will always compare yourself with others.  In order to determine your own sense of worth and value.  What Jesus has given you is a new rubric to use in these social situations. 


Get good at being like a little child.  Don’t be concerned with social status.  Be humble and don’t worry about being the center of attention.  You already have God’s attention, and that’s enough.