God's measure of greatness
From the Pastor's Desk
September 29, 2018
Mark 9:30-37 tells a story of Jesus walking with his friends while they hang back bickering over which one of them is the greatest.
Jesus turns around and catches them in the act. Awkward. Imagine Jesus, of all people, catching us bragging about our "greatness." I'll bet he gave them a stink-eye pause as they looked away in embarrassment. Yep, however, this story tells me that the disciples weren't hopeless, because people only get embarrassed about bragging if they value humility and in this case, the wisdom to see true greatness in their midst.
Jesus chose to use this incident as a teaching moment. He did not want people to be self-righteous or to judge themselves greater than others.
He waits until they are inside of a house, then sits them down to have a little talk, a come-to-Jesus moment. They had been caught up coveting greatness and the idea of being great sure sounds enticing. But, what is greatness? What does it require?
Jesus instructs his disciples, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all" (Mark 9:35). Then to make his point vivid, he takes a child in his arms, places him front and center for his disciples to see, and explains that by welcoming a child, someone who does not have power or wealth, the Divine is also welcomed. Wow.
Our modern culture misses the significance of this gesture, as we view children differently than in ancient times. "The Cultural World of Jesus," written by John Pilch, states that children were simply not valued the same then as today. Pilch writes that in medieval times, religious leaders, such as Thomas Aquinas, taught that in the event of a fire, a husband was obliged to save his father first, followed by his mother, then his wife, and finally his children – no rescuing the women and children first, as we claim to favor today.
Of course, we could argue that women and children are not necessarily rescued first today either. Scholars and researchers who study poverty around the world point out that the vast majority of people that need to be saved are women and children. Without education, security, and access to healthcare, many mothers and their children remain locked in cycles of poverty.
The quality of a child's life depends on decisions made every day in households, communities and in the halls of government....
"As children go, so go nations. It's that simple."
–Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF 1995-2005.
Right here in America, according to the Women's Legal Defense and Education Fund, 70 percent of our nation's poor are women and children. Do we take them into account first, when we make policies to achieve greatness? Are they our top concern when we approve a national budget or consider the effects of local ballot initiatives? Or do I perhaps care more about my own greatness: my paycheck, my income, my 401K, the stock market? God's measure of greatness doesn't focus on the economy, wealth, influence, fame, or the powerful, rather, welcoming and serving the powerless, the insignificant, those who need it most, is what makes us great.
Mahatma Gandhi is credited with saying that, "A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members."
Later, Martin Luther King, Jr., assured us, "Not everybody can be famous, but everybody can be great, because greatness is determined by service."
Have we forgotten what Gandhi, King and Christ claimed was true greatness? I think about our recent ancestors, those who fought in WWII and have been dubbed, "The Greatest Generation" by Tom Brokaw. I'm not sure they all were the greatest, but I believe what made them great was their service and sacrifice for so many of us who followed. Our current quest of greatness seldom mentions these primary necessary ingredients that Jesus warned his followers about. He told them repeatedly that he would suffer and die. Jesus knew that supporting the least, the poor, the people who didn't matter, the outcasts, children, widows, slaves, orphans, alien, and immigrants would not be popular. His Gospel good news to these people would get him killed by those not wanting their comfort upended. Do we still have the courage to bring Good News to the poor, the outcasts, women and children suffering in our nation and around the world?
God doesn't require perfection, just the ability for us to see, love, and serve the most vulnerable.
About Tehachapi Community Church, UCC:
No matter who you are, no matter where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here!
The Tehachapi Community Church, UCC is an open and welcoming community of faith that believes that each person, created in the image of God, holds a piece of the truth. Therefore we respect each person's unique spiritual journey. We invite you to experience the difference that religious freedom in a caring community can make in that journey.
We are located at 100 East E St., in Tehachapi. Worship and Sunday School are at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays. Please join us for coffee and fellowship at our Friendship Hall after worship (approximately 11:30 a.m.).
All are welcome.