The disciples argued with each other about who would be greatest. Think about that. Not only grown men, but the disciples. These guys were hand-picked by God Himself for the task of being the closest to Jesus and they were arguing about which one of them would be better than the other.
Time and time again I think of the capacity every one of us have for being like this. And yet, if we are honest, we don’t believe it. How prideful we’ve become.
Jesus knew their thoughts and He stood a child next to Him and said this:
“Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all — he is the greatest.”
A child in those days had no status. Jesus was known, the child was not. As an adult, Jesus had more to offer, the child did not. Jesus is making a point to the disciples, who once pulled the children away thinking they were bothering Him. So it is apparent that the unknown among us, those who have little to offer, those who may seem to be a bother — are the greatest in God’s eyes — and we are to receive them.
What and who we would disqualify, God qualifies.
The definition of least and great in theory is understood. How it is actually played out in our lives is another thing and that’s what counts. We see the mandate go ye into all the world and we all have our ways of doing that. We take our spiritual gifts quizzes and even take a course on finding our fit in advancing the kingdom. We place emphasis on skill, knowledge, and ability. We build upon what God has said, interpreting it (with good intentions) and giving it our spin, and yet Jesus taught nothing of this. He was moved with love that begets compassion, received sinners, and ultimately was executed on behalf of a sin-sick world in order to make a way to the Father.
And we continue on building with our good intentions (all the while Peter’s good intentions echo in my mind) as if our way is somehow permissible and accepted by God. And all the while I feel this tugging on my heart because we are finding another way. If it doesn’t cost you, then are you taking up your cross daily and following Him? When the purifying fire comes to test your works, will all that remains be Christ’s unconditional love?
After Jesus spoke this to the disciples, John finds the need to pipe up and tell Jesus that he saw someone trying to drive out demons in Jesus’ name and he tried to stop him because he was not one of them. Let that sink in. Jesus’ response was basically, “Chill, John. Don’t stop him. Whoever isn’t against you is for you.” Now let that sink in. That’ll rock a few of our boats.
I am all for the confidence that comes with knowing who we are in Christ. What I am not for is the kind of confidence that leads to pride and a tell-tale sign is that we are not compassionate and we often disqualify. Jesus was always nailing pride. He resisted no one but the Pharisees. They typified a total lack of compassion with their proud looks of disqualification. If Jesus could be sarcastic, He was with these guys. They were always trying to catch someone in their sin. They were quick to judge the actions or lack thereof of others. They were always trying to promote themselves and their, ummm, greatness. They banked on their performance. Jesus didn’t buy into any of it.
And I don’t think Jesus is buying into any of it today.
Here’s the deal. We need to let the Holy Spirit sink deeply into our hearts and invade our lives. If we haven’t cried in awhile over the demise of another (yours doesn’t count) then I would say you better examine your heart and take survey of what you’ve built. Are you willing to destroy something that you may have spend 10..20..30 years of building if God says it’s gotta go? I don’t know about you, but I find that we’re made of the same stuff of our predecessors and we are apt to fashion our own golden calf and offer it in Jesus’ Name (you know, good intentions). And a mindset like that will only keep you humble.
Good intentions cannot be confused with labors of love. God will receive a labor of love that is built upon truth (read: how He would do it) and if He was moved with compassion then you better believe all our day-to-days better be moved with compassion. If we are living with good intentions and lack the compassion, it’s not good enough. It will never be good enough. I don’t care how many mountains you move with your faith.
In the same vein, we cannot think that because we have compassion, that a least mentality is a given because one can be prideful in their compassion. Yet today, if we are going to err, I think we lean much more toward our knowledge as being a culprit. And knowledge “puffeth up”.
I am content in offering drinks of water in Jesus’ Name. Not because I think that is now the “new” way to do Christianity and if you aren’t doing just that and it doesn’t look like daily, meager offerings it doesn’t count. It’s that I have found more joy in being “least” and reaching out to the “least” among us. There is truly a necessity for local church community and building one another up and spurring one another on. Yet, I cannot ignore the world outside of the church who needs hope and life. I cannot bring that to them if I am solely doing the church thing. I have to be willing to love my neighbor and that doesn’t only mean their involvement in a church. It means that I am willing to be spent, poured out as a drink offering, a living epistle, for the people I come in contact with that do not know God’s love. I have to be that expression. When they see it in us, they will see it in Him.
True greatness is when we don’t want to be great.