Who Is the Greatest?
(Matthew 18.1-5; Mark 9.33-37)
46 Jesus' disciples were arguing about which one of them was the greatest. 47Jesus knew what they were thinking, and he had a child stand there beside him. 48 Then he said to his disciples, “When you welcome even a child because of me, you welcome me. And when you welcome me, you welcome the one who sent me. Whichever one of you is the most humble is the greatest.”
For or against Jesus
49John said, “Master, we saw a man using your name to force demons out of people. But we told him to stop, because he isn't one of us.”
50“Don't stop him!” Jesus said. “Anyone who isn't against you is for you.”
This short passage starts with an argument. Jesus has just finished telling his followers that he’s about to be handed over to his enemies. The fact that the disciples don’t have a clue what Jesus is getting at shows how far they really are from being his right-hand men. Yet here they are, squabbling over which of them is the best.
Jesus’ response remains as challenging today as it must have sounded to the disciples: the key to greatness is humility. To make his lesson clear, Jesus has a young child stand next to him. Imagine the contrast in their eyes – a tiny person, probably with a runny nose and dirty face and absolutely nothing to offer, and next to the child, Jesus, the wonder working Messiah and rightful King of Israel. Imagine their shock in hearing that to welcome and care for this child is the same as serving Jesus.
Jesus continues his lesson on humility as he responds to John. John is upset about people who aren’t “one of them,” healing in Jesus’ name. Let it go, Jesus tells the disciples. You don’t need to be in on everything, or in control of everyone.
The lesson here is that real humility is two-dimensional – it involves valuing two kinds of people. Who are the “little children” around us? The ones with little to offer, who may seem insignificant and even inconvenient? Jesus invites us to serve and honour these people. And who are the “miracle-workers” among us? The ones who are doing great things in the name of Jesus? Jesus invites us to step back, to allow them to shine. To be great in God’s kingdom, we need to care for others more than ourselves – from the least to the greatest.
Heavenly Father, your Son was the humble King. It’s not easy to value others above myself. My pride and jealousy can get in the way. Help me to respond to everyone as I would respond to you, so they can see you in me. Amen.