Summary: Many times winning at all costs is the mantra that we live by. But Jesus challenges us to become like a child - what does that mean, really, and how does it help God rescue us?
Why is it that we always measure everything by who the best at it or who’s the richest or most popular or highest ranking or most powerful? Every year we have lists and competitions and contests to determine these things – the Super Bowl, the NBA playoffs, the Forbes list of the richest Americans, the Nobel prize, the SAT, Nielsen ratings, and the presidential elections …
A recent study showed that when given the opportunity, we will spend considerable amounts of energy and worth just to push the other guy down. The study, conducted by economists Andrew Oswalk of Warwick University and Daniel Zizzo of Oxford found that when a group of people gamble a sum of money against random numbers – and can see how their competitors are doing – if given the choice they will spend up to 25 cents of each dollar the win in order to burn up a dollar of their competitors money. Their conclusion: "Sad to say, there is more envy in the world than altruism."
"I always believed that I could be number one in the world … Being number one right now, I’ve got a bull’s eye on my back." Apolo Anton Ohno (gold medal winner of the 1500m speed skating event at the Salt Lake Olympics)
The problem with being number one is that there is always a number two just waiting to knock you off. A news director I knew would say to complaining reporters – "Go ahead and complain – if you don’t like your job I’ve got a stack of resume tapes in my office of people who’d love to take your place."
And don’t think that wanting to be number one started recently. Jesus’ disciples had the same itch to be looked at as the best as we do.
Jesus, of course, is the undisputed best at everything. And yet – He never aspired to what we would call greatness. And He’s going to put a pin in the swelling balloon of pride in His disciples and in us as well.
18:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"
On the surface this might seem like a good question. The word "greatest" comes from the word "mega" like megabyte. It means "larger" or "greater". In the last chapter Jesus has just talked about how they were part of a greater kingdom than Rome. Rome was the epitome of power. And Caesar was at the pinnacle of that power. That’s pretty heady stuff. It would be like someone telling you that your citizenship made you more powerful than the president of the United States. "Wow – important AND powerful!"
So as often happens with alpha males – the members of the pack start to vie with each other – "hey, if we’re that powerful, then who among us is the most powerful?" We always judge our worth by who we are better than, don’t we? And it doesn’t stop when we become Christians. Whose church is bigger, who reads the Bible more, who prays more fervently, who has more salvations on their Christian witnessing belt?
And women – don’t think you’re immune either. A recent study found that women in the workplace often purposefully undermine and secretly sabotage each other to get ahead – picture being stabbed in the back with a letter opener on the way to the water cooler and you get the idea.
Another time when the disciples were catfighting each other Jesus answered their question about who was greatest by using the analogy of a servant. This time, though, He’s going to turn the idea of power on it’s head. A servant, you see, knows his place in the pecking order – the bottom. As Jesus’ kingdom has many facets – so too do the citizens of His kingdom.
Now, imagine the scene. The disciples are pumped – "we’re going to learn the secret of how to be the greatest – get our your Palm Pilot and start taking notes, man!" But instead of pulling out a PowerPoint presentation on the 10 tips to getting to the top Jesus pulls a child out into the middle of the crowd.
2 He called a little child and had him stand among them.
This is probably a boy or girl – not a baby or a teenager. "Okay," the disciples think, "we’re supposed to treat others like children in comparison to us – they’re weak and small and insignificant and we’re big and powerful and great!" Not quite.
3 And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.