My daughter is determinedly competitive. Winning is everything to her little heart right now. When she runs around with her friends - of ages both older and younger than she is - she wants to be the fastest. When we play a game, she refuses to play by any rules that would make her lose. She attended two sessions of soccer practice and, because she was unable to achieve a certain technique, refused to return.
My husband and I have many conversations with her that affirm our love for her regardless of some competitive success. But more importantly, we want to communicate to her that winning, or being the best at something, is not the goal of life.
So when Jesus' disciples asked him who was the greatest in his kingdom - when they inadvertently inquired as to which of them was the best - it only seems natural to expect the great Teacher to remind them that life isn't a competition.
"Haven't you been watching me?" Jesus could retort. "I hang out with all the nobodies, the outcasts, the forgotten and condescended to. Can't you see that I'm not interested in people with important titles and puffed up righteousness?"
Or he could have given them a refresher on Psalms 8 and 144 - on how great God is and how infinitely small and insignificant they are by comparison.
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth, who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens! When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; what is man that You take thought of him and the son of man that You care for him? Blessed be the Lord, my rock, my lovingkindness and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and He in whom I take refuge. O Lord, what is man, that You take knowledge of him? Or the son of man, that You think of him? Man is like a mere breath; his days are like a passing shadow.
But instead of chastising these immature boys for competing to be in first place, instead of reminding them of the great humility that Jesus himself bore for their sake, instead of giving them a biblical rebuke for even daring to ask about greatness when compared to the eternal God -
INSTEAD, JESUS TELLS THEM HOW TO BE GREAT!
So - maybe seeking after the prize isn't a bad thing after all? Maybe God actually wants me to be great in his kingdom? The apostle Paul seems to agree, as he shares with the church that he presses on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. And again he reminds us: Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.
We'll unpack this even more as we process Jesus' answer, but for now, I'd love to hear your thoughts. How do you feel knowing that there is a way to greatness in the kingdom of God? What sort of issues (positive or negative) does that bring up for you?