In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Who’s the greatest? Thirty or forty years ago, many would have answered that question with the name of a young boxer from Louisville: Muhammed Ali. Who’s the greatest? Ask that question in the realm of 20th century politics, and you could get very different answers, ranging from FDR to Ronald Reagan. Who’s the greatest? In the topic of cartoons, is it Mickey Mouse, or Bugs Bunny? In music, Elvis or the Beatles, or even Michael Jackson? Or an even greater competition – who’s the greatest – Cubs or White Sox?
The disciples are arguing the question, “Who’s the greatest?” These men we call “saint” and recognize them as heroes in the faith, yet even they had their share of rivalry and jealous strife.
Who’s the greatest? It is such a basic question, and one which has one basic answer every person wants to give: “me.” Stop for a moment and be honest. When you are in a group of people, you still want things to go your way. You want them to listen to your words and agree with your ideas. And you want this at the expense of the words, ideas, and ways of others. Who’s the greatest? “Me!” you say.
At school, we have the student attitude: forget about my classmate. I want the teacher to notice me – I’m the best. In the workplace: I’m the hardest worker. I am the most valuable to the company. I’m the greatest. And in church: I’ve put in more hours and donated more money than others. I’ve worked hard here. I am the greatest.
But is that really greatness? Is it great to be keeping track of our deeds like a bunch of Pharisees? Is it great to congratulate ourselves?
What is the answer to the disciples’ question: “Who is the greatest?” “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And when He is killed, after three days He will rise.” Who’s the greatest? “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13.) Jesus laid down His life not only for friends, but also His enemies. He laid down His life in order to trade us for our death. Who is greater than that? No one. Who’s the Greatest? Jesus! That’s who!
Amazing! Greatness has nothing to do with power or wealth. It is completely unrelated to politics or fame. False religions such as Islam or Mormonism, or even false teaching coming from the likes of Joel Osteen will speak of greatness in far more earthly terms. But true greatness – such as THE greatest One, Jesus Christ – is all about supreme love and mercy sacrificing self.
As you see the image of a crucifix, you witness the clearest picture of greatness. There is God, before your very eyes, giving everything up and laying down His life. Jesus Christ hangs there, body broken and blood shed for you. That is the image of true greatness.
When you see Jesus on the cross, you behold the greatest act of love, mercy, and forgiveness. There Almighty God makes Himself weak to give His strength, and gives Himself to death that He may give you life. Our Savior, nailed to that cross, is the absolute greatest!
And He doesn’t want to keep that greatness to Himself. Our loving Lord gifts you with greatness, so that you may enjoy the greatness of eternal life with Him. Through Baptism He has given a blessed exchange, trading you the depths of your broken flaws for His perfect greatness. And through His Holy Supper, He gives you to taste of His greatness, and as you eat His Body and Blood, it consumes you and transforms you, so you abide in His greatness.
So as you receive Jesus’ greatness, will things suddenly go your way? Will you automatically become successful? There are no such promises. Jesus being the greatest and then giving that greatness does not mean that we get everything going the way we want. It doesn’t mean we become wealthy or popular or powerful.
In fact, in the life of the Christian, if we are obsessed with becoming great, we fall into the same sin as the Twelve. We are slipping into desiring to be our own God, and join Adam and Eve in their rebellious quest for power and control. Yes, you might say that the sin in the Garden was precisely answering “Me!” to the question, “Who’s the greatest?”
But that is not true greatness. If it is sought and desired, it is not true greatness. “Who is the greatest?” has a truthful answer each of us must confess: “Not me.”
The greatness is righteousness in Christ, gifted in faith. The greatness is the mercy of God, receiving us into the kingdom of heaven. Even though we are not searching for it, as Teddy Roosevelt remarked, we have greatness thrust upon us—not as he understood, not the “greatness” the world thinks of – but as a gift of love and mercy.
So rejoice, even when finances are not great. Be glad, even when nothing goes your way and you suffer hardships. You may be the lowest and humblest of people that no history book or memoir would ever recall. You may never have a monument or statue or portrait remembering you to future generations. But so what?! That is not important. That is not “great” in God’s eyes.
For today we are reminded of true greatness through the saving acts and words of Jesus, who speaks His greatness to you before our Father in heaven, and gifts you with it that you may share in that blessed life.
“Who’s the greatest?” Jesus! And He is the greatest, for you! Amen.