“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’
“He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
“‘Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” – Matthew 18:1-4
During the 1960s, a young, arrogant and cocky man from Kentucky became quite famous overnight. He boxed his way to fame in the Olympics and subsequently as a professional boxer. At the time, he was known as Cassius Clay.
Clay challenged and defeated the known champion Sonny Liston, twice. Then he began to announce that he was the greatest. However, on March 8, 1971, Clay who had changed his name to Muhammad Ali, fell in defeat to smoking Joe Frazer. No longer was he the greatest.
In the above text, Jesus gives his disciples a lesson in humility. They wanted to know who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Being the greatest is something towards which many of us strive. There is nothing wrong with trying to be the best. However, when we become good or the best, our pride trips us down.
This is what we in the temporal world do. The disciples, in asking Jesus the question “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”, were thinking about temporal power. When Jesus talked about his kingdom, he was talking spiritually about a kingdom unlike that we have here on earth.
Jesus understood the nature of human frailties. When we humans talk about being great or the greatest, we become prideful, jealous and self-centered. These cause strife and bring about division.
Being the greatest in God’s kingdom is not about who is stronger or mightier. It’s about service and humility. It’s like leadership. He who will lead must first learn to serve or follow.
The kingdom of God calls for us to be Christ-like. He who is truly the greatest came into the world not to be served but to serve. Jesus was not full of pride nor did he have any need to be jealous of anyone.
Ronald Reagan told the following story: “I once addressed a very large audience, distinguished audience in Mexico City and then sat down to rather scattered and unenthusiastic applause. And I was somewhat embarrassed, even more so when the next man who spoke, a representative of the Mexican government speaking in Spanish, which I don’t understand, was being interrupted virtually every other line with the most enthusiastic kind of applause. To hide my embarrassment, I started clapping before anyone else and clapped longer than anyone else until our ambassador leaned over and said to me, ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you; he’s interpreting your speech.’” Even the president of the United States was stricken with pride and jealousy.
In response to the disciples’ question, Jesus made his point by placing a child in the midst of the disciples and explaining what being great is all about. It is about humility and drowning self.
The humblest Christians are the best Christians. They display love, humility and kindness for all. Someone said “the child of a rich man will play with the child of a beggar or a child in rags”.
It is said that Muhammad Ali, who is the greatest, once got on a 747 and took his seat. As the plane began taxiing down the runway for takeoff, the flight attendant walked by and noticed that he did not have on his seatbelt. She said, “Please fasten your seatbelt, sir.”
He looked up proudly and snapped, “Superman don’t need no seatbelt.”
Without hesitation, she stared at him and said, “Superman don’t need no plane.” Amen.
• Rev. Samuel M. Boodle, pastor at The Lutheran Church of Nassau,119 John F. Kennedy Drive, can be reached at P.O. Box N 4794, Nassau, Bahamas; or telephone: 426-9084; E-mail: email@example.com; website: www.Nassaulutheranchurch.org.