When we hear the line, “I am the greatest,” many think of Muhammad Ali. Even before some current politicians. He crashed into our awareness when he took the Olympic gold medal in 1960 and smashed the invincible Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship in 1964 (above pic). This remarkable athlete and poet described himself as “pretty,” loved the limelight and adulation, and even took on the US government and won. Quite a man, who later fought Parkinson’s until his death in 2016.
But before we mourn his and other’s lack of humility, maybe we need to look inward a bit. Don’t we all face the same issue? What caused Adam and Eve to change the outcome of the world? They wanted importance and power. What caused Cain to kill Abel? He wanted to do things as he desired. And as I studied “Just Jesus” this week, another example crushed me.
The foundation of our faith, the New Testament, was primarily written by the apostles and close followers of Jesus. Exemplary men, at least some times. But they, like we, had flaws. In Mark 9: 33-35, Jesus heard the disciples arguing as they walked to Capernaum, and arriving at the house he asked them about it. Silence. They “had argued about who was the greatest,” knew they’d been busted and were too embarrassed.
Jesus then defined greatness, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
A great lesson, and of course they embraced and obeyed it. Right? After all, this was the Son of God! Check out the next chapter, verses 35-45. Privately, James and John came to Jesus and asked for the favor of sitting at Jesus’ right and left in the kingdom, a position of power and prestige. Intimacy with Jesus, or power and importance? Jesus seemed to think the latter, and said they didn’t know what they were asking for.
Lesson over? Nope. The rest heard about this and got mad at James and John for beating them to the punch. Jesus repeated that greatness comes from serving. Just like he had done—leaving heaven to give his life. So why did that crush me? That desire for importance and power is in me. That desire to do what I want to do when and how I want it. And it’s deadly to following Jesus.
Kick Starting the Application
Think back to the last week, and examine your motives for some of what you did. Did you act to benefit yourself, or others? Did you build your world, or sacrifice to benefit others? Deep down, are you more Muhammad Ali or Jesus? How content are you with what you’ve come up with? What specific changes can you make in this coming week to move further along the continuum between self-serving and other-serving?