What is greatness?
How odd that that the amazing competent woman of Proverbs 31, and her sisters, are still denigrated as a somewhat second grade human beings in so much of our culture! Even today.
We have strange ways of determining what it means to be great—
as though "being great" or "the greatest," somehow meant we had achieved life!
Last week the Gospel of Mark began to educate us about who the Messiah really is, and what it means to follow him. In that reading Jesus said that "those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it." (Mark 8:35)
This week Jesus repeats that message: "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." (Mark 9:35) And in chapter 10, a few weeks from now, we will hear another variation of this teaching about greatness.
These are the three signal teachings about the Messiah in the centre of Mark, so it appears that losing and thereby saving our lives, is somehow intimately connected with being "last of all and servant of all."
What we hear in the gospel,
and the good news for our life that we find in Jesus' proclamation that the kingdom of God is at hand, (Mark 1:15)
will depend on what we place at the centre of our lives.
What we hang on to, and what we let go—
what we save and what we lose—
will determine who we become, and what joy we know.
Are we at the centre of our lives, or do we live for the world, placing ourselves last of all?
It is difficult not to centre the universe around ourselves. In a very real sense we are at the centre. We can, after all, only know the world through us. We are an evolved animal. Our basic background and deepest instinct, is to fight or flee, to survive at all costs. It is this biology that enabled us to develop and persist as a species! Probably, in our earlier days, it enabled us to thrive in a hostile environment, and gave us part of our evolutionary advantage…
We could conclude from these words about our evolutionary past that we are programmed and evolved to "look out for number one." I go on to say in that article
… the basic theology or philosophy of all our lives, call it what you like, makes one of two choices.
I have just outlined the first path: ultimately, when we remove all the niceties, life is about looking after number one.
The second path comes from the recognition that our future, as individuals, and as a species, lies in the common good. Whatever we feel about ourselves, we are not the final centre. The final centre for humanity, its future and its acme, lies in community. This basic theology or philosophy is the other path we can follow.
All life comes down to one or other of these two paths. For those who choose the second path, much of our effort will go into transcending and growing beyond the primitive path from which we have evolved as a species.
If we will not lose ourselves as nation states, and live for the whole of humanity and all earth, we may not survive as a species. If we Australians insists on saving ourselves, and our coal industry, we may lose our lives. That’s the big picture.
But even at the personal level, if I will not let go of being number one…
if I will not work to transcend my evolutionary beginnings and remove myself from the centre of my being…
I will never be great. I will not be the person I could be.
I may save my life, but I will lose it.
I may be Chairman of the Board or, at least, the Senior Minister,
but I will not be much of a person— not the person I could have been.
There is something about life I will not find if I keep myself at the centre.
So let me read the three central sayings of the Messiah in Mark.
…those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it." (Mark 8:35)
Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all. (Mark 9:35)
You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. (Mark 10:42b-44)
These sayings are not religion.
These sayings are not God's arbitrary rules to bother us, or make life difficult.
These sayings hold the centrality of what it means to be truly human
and find the life God has given us. Amen.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!