Summary: If we want to be the greatest disciple, greatness will not be found as the world defines it, but in servanthood and in embracing the least of God’s children.
Sports fans will know that Muhammad Ali today is called the greatest. Ali himself used to tell everyone “I am the greatest,” but not everyone agreed, especially when he was younger.
He became the greatest in the eyes of the world over the last 40 years. Muhammad Ali used to “float like a butterfly” and “sting like a bee”. Ali would dodge a punch while he used a very unconventional style, with hands held low, as he bobbed and weaved.
In 1964, he was far from the Greatest. He was an underdog. Hardly anyone gave him any hope of winning the fight.
But he won and became the Heavy Weight Champion of the world.
Then he lost his title and had to win it back in the so-called “Rumble in the Jungle”, against then champion Gorge Foreman. Yes indeed. Young people might be surprised to know that Foreman was an athlete before earning his current fame as the salesman of George Forman grills.
Ali was the World’s Heavy weight champ once again.
Then he lost his title to Leon Spinks.
But he won it back from Spinks not long afterward.
Ali became the only person in history to win the Heavy Weight title three times, and even his critics agreed that he was the Greatest.
Ali would have the spotlight once more in 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Ali, with hands trembling from the Parkinson’s Disease he now suffers from, lit the cauldron to signify the start of the Summer Olympic Games. Many people shed tears as they watched “The Greatest” light the torch.
Because of his accomplishments, the world calls Ali “The Greatest”. And while Ali’s story is inspiring and should stir the emotions of our heart, what the world calls great and what the Lord calls great are often two very different things.
While Ali became great by winning the Heavy Weight title three times, God isn’t impressed by such accomplishments.
We think of people who are rich as great.
We think of people who have great jobs, and are at the top of their career as great.
We think of people who win American Idol as great.
We think of celebrities as great.
While God desires good things in our life, he is more concerned with our character than with our trophies.
While he enables us to do great things, what God really wants of us is that we do His will. What He really wants us to accomplish is not that we gather trophies that will gather dust, but that we practice Faith, Hope and Love that will never become dusty, useless trophies.
In our Scripture reading for today, Jesus and his disciples are on a journey and they pass through Galilee. As they walk along the way, Jesus becomes aware that some of his disciples are arguing among themselves.
When they reach their destination, he asks them about why they were arguing, and the disciples keep quiet. Of course they kept quiet. They were spiritually mature enough to know that what they had been talking about was inappropriate and that Jesus would not approve.
They had been arguing about which of them was the greatest.
Jesus turns their world – and ours – upside down by saying, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
1. TO BE THE GREATEST MEANS TO BECOME A SERVANT
If we want to have real greatness – not the kind the world gives, but the kind God recognizes -- we need to learn to serve.
Now that goes against the grain of what our society teaches. We always have the desire to be first. We want to have it our way, our will, our needs are most important!
Jesus said that he who seeks to be the greatest needs to become the last and must be the servant of all.
Most of us do not want to serve other people. We want to be served. We want someone to wait on us hand and foot.
We think very highly of ourselves.
I was talking with a teacher last week who was telling me that a child in her class was insisting that he be allowed to use the restroom in the office area, which was reserved for the staff. The teacher made the off-hand remark, “Do you think you are better than everyone else.”
And the child said, “Yes. I am.”
Not only that, but the child must have gone home and told his parents that he was forced to use the student restroom. Upset about this, the parents called the school and confirmed that yes, indeed, their child was in fact better than the other children.
We have been teaching the doctrine of “good self-esteem” for so long and we have found that it is beginning to backfire. We should have been teaching good social esteem. We need to think well of ourselves, and well of other people.