Are Christians called to greatness?
This question comes to mind upon hearing this morning’s gospel reading. Our Lord tells His disciples about how they will not only go to Jerusalem but all the things which will happen in Jerusalem. That is, that He will be betrayed, condemned to death, spat upon, mocked and, ultimately, killed. But, He continues, He will rise on the third day. And so two brothers, James and John, moved by this account given by our Lord go to Him and say, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.” And they ask Him if they could sit, one on His right hand and the other on His left, when He is in His glory. To this the Lord simply replies, “You do not know what you ask.”
In reality the problem that the two brothers pose in this morning’s gospel reading is not their desire for greatness as much as it is their thirst for power. It’s a human thirst; a part of our fallen, sinful human state. Yet the fundamental problem with all the sinful thirsts and desires and yearnings and aspirations that men have – is they are insatiable. Meaning, no matter how hard one runs after, no matter how much one pursues riches and power and glory of this world, it’ll never be enough. We read at one place in the gospel how our Lord met a Samaritan woman at a well and told her: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The answer, in other words, to man’s constant thirst for satisfaction is God. He is the only one who will quench that thirst inside of us.
But the problem we are faced with specifically in this morning’s gospel reading is, as we stated, the thirst for power. The holy and venerable Serbian Father Justin Popovic of blessed repose wrote concerning this exchange between Jesus and the two brothers noting that it was our Lord who was the only one that had ever, in the history of mankind, solved this problem of power, or the thirst for it. “The problem of power” Fr. Justin writes, “is a problem of existence, a problem of a hierarchy of living things and powers, a problem of heavenly and earthly volume. For the same principle and the same order belongs in heaven as it does on earth. In heaven: all things which are greater serve the smaller; all lesser things receives everything they need for their existence from the greater; and all together – from the Highest. And so in the spiritual and material worlds, in nature: the sun, the most important and largest light, serves the other smaller lights giving of itself, warmth, light; it serves the tiny earth and everything in it. Throughout all of nature God serves all creatures and creation. An exception to this has been made by man through his egocentric, self-sufficient and prideful selfishness. Man manages things by commanding and not serving. The God-man has come to repair this: managing people by serving them. This is the way of the New Testament, the gospel, the God-man of managing and ruling over men. In this is the newness of the evangelical ruling and evangelical ruling = the Church; in it the highest and greatest humbly serve the smallest and lowest. The very light-filled Angels of the Lord were made by the Church to be servants to the spirits of men, to serve them for their salvation (Heb. 1:14).”
Therefore to answer the question: Are Christians called to greatest? We can answer with a most emphatic, Yes! After all, the Bible is filled with great men and women: Moses and Abraham and Jacob and King David, the prophet Isaiah and Elijah just to name a few. Then of course we have more in the New Testament, the greatest being the Holy Theotokos, the Most Holy Mother of God. And there are so many, many more. Yet all of these great Biblical figures had one thing in common, a holy virtue which made them great. And that was the virtue of humility. What’s important to remember, however, is that this characteristic shared by all of these great men and women is also a characteristic of God. Our God, above all, is a humble God. And so St. Paul writes of Christ, “He humbled himself being obedient to death, even on a cross. That is why God exalted him and gave him the Name that outshines all names, so that at the name of Jesus all knees should bend” (Phi. 2:8-10)
All of this is to say that although we have been called to greatness it doesn’t mean we need to pursue it at all costs. Our greatness is in serving and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Moreover, it lies solely in leading a God-pleasing life and being Christ-like in everything we do. For the God we believe in and place our hope in isn’t a mean and hateful God who rules over us with a tight fist. He is, on the other hand, one who has so much love for us that He sent His only begotten Son not so that His Son would “be served,” but as He says in this morning’s gospel “to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” so that “whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Amen.