In our culture, most people want to be great. If you ask a child what they want to be when they grow up, usually you get an occupation associated with power (e.g., President of the United States), fame (e.g., NBA player), or fortune (e.g., CEO). The other day, one of my friend’s kids said he wanted to be an American Ninja Warrior. Boom. How exciting is that?
How do our ideas about being great line up with Jesus’ ideas about being great? There’s a story in the Bible that speaks to this exact question.
Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
“What is it you want?” he asked.
She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?”
“We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever 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, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:20-28).
The mom in this story wanted her two sons to have the best seats in heaven—the places of highest honor. They wanted to be great, like an American Ninja Warrior. But Jesus flips the script. He tells his followers that he has a different idea of what it means to be great.
Being great, according to Jesus, doesn’t involve being in a position of power. Being great doesn’t mean that you have authority over others and force them to do your will. Instead, being great involves following the example of Jesus and becoming a servant. The world values power. Jesus values humility.
Discussion: What would it look like for you to be ‘great?’ What is one thing you could do today to serve someone in your life?