Mark 9:33-41 (ESV)
33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” 38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.
Jesus heard his disciples arguing while they were traveling back to Capernaum. He asked them what all the fuss was about. They didn’t want to answer because they were embarrassed and felt ashamed. They had been fighting about which one of them was the greatest and would be most honored in the future kingdom. Peter, James, and John were selected by Jesus to witness the transfiguration. Perhaps that meant they were the greatest. But Peter spoke openly and boldly about Jesus being the Messiah, so maybe he would be the most honored. But then again, Peter said some foolish things too and was publicly rebuked by the Lord. Who was the greatest of the disciples? Clearly, they still didn’t comprehend the truths Jesus taught about suffering and sacrifice. Jesus then sat down and called all twelve disciples to gather around him. In the posture of a rabbi, he taught them if one really wanted to be the greatest, then he must humble himself and choose to serve. Jesus didn’t tell them they were incorrect in wanting to be first, but he did define greatness in a new way. Jesus brought a little child in their midst. The child must have been very young, since Jesus held him in his arms. He said, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (v. 37). In other words, if we want to serve Jesus and even the Father, we need to pay attention to the needs of those who might be considered insignificant. Children were considered the least important members of Greek and Jewish societies.
What is greatness in God’s eyes? We can forget that God may not view the qualities we admire in others the same way we do. We often esteem the powerful, rich, intelligent, and beautiful among us. But God considers the one who freely and humbly puts the interests of others before her own interests as “first.” And that’s exactly what Jesus did. He humbled himself, and was found in appearance as a human. He went all the way down the social ladder, even to the point of enduring a slave’s execution: death on a cross. In serving one another, we display the love of Jesus to a dying world. If you want to be great in God’s kingdom, then follow Jesus’ example and embrace the lowly in your midst today.