Who is the greatest person in the world?
Check out these suggestions, by country. Or read Joel Stein’s recent article naming his picks for the 100 most influential people of all time. If you’d like to put a picture to the faces, check out these 100 portraits of iconic people in history.
The people on these lists have many things in common, namely, that they became famous (either for good or evil) and that they exerted a great deal of influence over a significant number of people throughout time.
But to truly decide on the greatest person in the world - or in history - a better question may need to be asked: how do you define greatness?
Is greatness attributed to someone because of his words? Certainly, many 'great' speeches have been made, such as President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address or Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream". But was it the words that inspired us, or the men behind those words?
Is greatness achieved by one's actions? The Red Cross has won the most Nobel Prizes of any entity and Mother Teresa is easily one of the most famous 'saints' to have walked the earth. Is what they have done the cause of their greatness in our minds?
About two thousand years ago, a group of young men looking for greatness posed that very question to their respected teacher. Devout Jews who were waiting expectantly for God's Kingdom to reign on earth, they wanted to know, “Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
No doubt these guys were hoping one of them would qualify for the title. If they had not yet proven their worth, then surely the teacher's response would set them on the right track.
For an answer, Jesus called over a little child (probably between the ages of 4-6) and placed the child among the group of men. Then he said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
I'm assuming that, when you contemplated the first two questions posed in this post - who is the greatest? and how do you define greatness? - your first response wasn't anywhere near "a preschooler." And I'm certain that the guys hanging around Jesus would have agreed with you. His answer is surprising, puzzling, and pretty hard to accept.
So I invite you to spend this month meditating on this difficult saying with me. If you want to be great, or if you want to understand how God defines greatness, or even if you just want to contemplate the words of Jesus, stay awhile - let's chat!