By Arch Hoercher
We are always discussing “who is the greatest”? We all, especially men, discuss who is the greatest baseball player or who is the greatest hockey player or football player or tennis player or NASCAR driver. Who is the greatest actor or actress. What movie is the all-time greatest? What is the best country music song of all? The list goes on and on. Mohammed Ali told most everyone that he met that he was the greatest. There is a story that I remember hearing several years ago about a time when Ali was on an airplane flight. At that time, a stewardess approached him and asked him to fasten his seat belt. He responded that “Superman don’t need no seatbelt.” The stewardess responded, “Superman don’t need no airplane.” Ali fastened his seatbelt.
The point is that we all are caught up in “who is the greatest”. We can get tied up with that in our work. I want to be the greatest insurance salesman in the firm. I want to be the greatest lawyer in the state. I want to be the greatest cop in the city. I want to be the greatest soldier, teacher, coach, car salesperson, preacher, or home maker. We all want to be great at what we do and enjoy the recognition when we are recognized for being great. It is a natural thing. In and of itself there is nothing wrong with wanting to be the best (or greatest) at what we do but the danger is where our heart lies. What is it costing us to be the greatest.
The disciples were no different. In Luke 9:46 the disciples were following Jesus at a distance and were debating among themselves who was the greatest. In Matthew 20:20 the mother of the sons of Zebedee, James and John, approached Jesus to ask if her sons could sit at His right and left hand (positions of recognition and power) in the Kingdom. Even at the last supper just before Jesus was to be betrayed and taken to His death, the disciples were again debating who among them was the greatest. Luke 22:24 (NIV); “A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.”
Jesus answered this debate over greatness in a very graphic way. In John 13:4-5 (NIV); “so He got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” Why would Jesus do this? One needs to understand that there were no shoes or socks at this time in history. People walked around either bare footed or with sandals. The roads and “sidewalks” were not paved. They were packed dirt or rock. Your feet would get dirty walking to your neighbor’s house. And if you walked any distance, your feet would get very dirty. Normally when you would enter a room to eat, a servant would be present and would wash your feet prior to you taking your place at the table. This “job” was always delegated to the lowest of the low. In other words, if you were a slave, this job would be given to the lowest ranking slave.
Jesus, God Incarnate, the creator and master of the universe, was lowering Himself to the status of the lowest to serve His disciples. He was giving an example to them to understand, as far as the Kingdom of God goes, who is the greatest. Luke 22:25-27 (NIV) reads, “Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the tablet? But I am among you as one who serves.’” And in John 13:13-17 (NIV) Jesus tells His disciples; “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
Jesus gave us the “greatest” example of what it really means to be the greatest. He does not literally mean that we should wash others feet. He is not setting a required church ceremony. He is telling us that we must recognize that we should become the lowest not the proudest and we should become a servant not the master. He wants us to recognize that in God’s eyes we are no better or no worse than any other person. We should approach others with an attitude of “What can I do for you?” rather than an attitude of “What can you do for me?”. God’s grace is given to all who ask. It is given to the death row prisoner as well as the missionary in Uganda. God will give His grace to the CEO of the greatest corporation in the world. Not because of his position and rank, but because that CEO recognizes that he is nothing without God’s grace and that regardless of his rank and position, he still is a servant. Do you want to become the greatest in your profession or work? Do everything that you do as if you are doing it for God and serve. Never believe that you are better or “greater” than anyone else no matter if you are the President of the United States or the greeter at Wal-Mart.