Summary: What is greatness? The opposite of what we think. We’re so thankful that God is "great" in this way.
Once there was the president of a large corporation. He was a powerful man – when he said “jump” people would ask, “How high?” Everyone was below him, and everyone had to answer to him. And this job came with nice benefits – a fancy house, nice car. But this man was different. He decided to take an upside-down approach to life. He decided that he didn’t want to be president anymore. Instead of climbing up the corporate ladder, he decided to climb down the corporate ladder. So, to everyone’s surprise, he applied for a lower position – the position of vice president. He got it, of course. He demoted himself, and made someone else president. Now he had someone above him.
But he wasn’t done yet. He had an upside-down approach to life. He demoted himself again, this time to office executive. Now he had 15 people over him, and less pay. He wanted to go even lower, so he demoted himself again. Now he was an administrative assistant, and he had 200 people over him. His pay was going down, so he had to sell his house and move into a smaller one. But he wasn’t done yet. He was an upside-down thinker. He finally demoted himself to the lowest position in the company – he was in the mail room, and everyone in the company was over him.
Would this ever happen in real life? Probably not. No one strives to be at the bottom, serving everybody else. Greatness is climbing to the top. Greatness is how many people you have underneath you. Greatness is power. Greatness is sitting in the board room and telling someone, “You’re fired.”
But God has an upside down approach to life. God has set up his kingdom, a spiritual kingdom, in an upside down sort of way. God loves to contradict how our world thinks. In God’s upside down kingdom, the greatest person is not the person who is at the top, who is in charge of everyone else and can tell everyone else what to do. In God’s kingdom, the greatest person is one who is at the bottom. It’s the one who has the most people over him, and he answers and serves everyone. In God’s kingdom, that’s greatness.
Doesn’t that seem strange? It must have seemed strange to two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John. They had a completely different picture of “greatness.” They believed, just like every body else, that Jesus had come into the world to help the Jews overthrow the Roman government. Someday, Jesus would reestablish the glorious kingdom of Israel, and he would be in charge, and we, the twelve apostles, would be at his side. We’ve going to be the twelve vice presidents. We’re going to be in charge of everybody. James and John were part of Jesus’ inner circle, and they couldn’t wait to be number one and number two in Jesus’ future kingdom.
Their mother got involved. All mothers want to see their children succeed, so she took Jesus aside and asked him for a special favor for her sons. “What is it you want?” Jesus asked their mother. And 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.” In other words, make my sons number one and number two, when you finally take charge – that was her request.