“I am the greatest! I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. I am the greatest!”
Those showy, bragging words were famously spoken throughout the 1960s and 70s by world champion boxer Muhammed Ali. As a youngster, I grew up watching him dance around the ring and thump his way to world heavyweight title after title, pummeling his opponents, and even calling the round in which they would hit the canvas – and they did. He boasted that he could beat any boxer that ever lived, or any boxer who ever would live.
Our culture measures greatness in many ways: sports championship rings, big bank accounts, Oscars, power, or fame.
In today’s Gospel Jesus and his disciples are travelling through Galilee. Jesus is telling them that he “is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” But the disciples did not understand what he was saying, and they were even afraid to ask him.
As they continued their journey to Capernaum, the disciples had an argument over which one of them was the greatest. When they arrived, Jesus asked them what they were arguing about – as if he did not know! But they were likely ashamed and remained silent. Then Jesus taught them that “if anyone wishes to be first [great], he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
Clearly we see here that God’s ways are not our ways. Greatness, according to God is not like the “greatness” of the world. God measures true greatness, not by wealth, fame or power, but by humility, servanthood and the simplicity of becoming like a child.
What is our scale?