On the one hand, in a positive sense, the disciples of Jesus believed that their future greatness would come from their connection with Jesus. On the other hand, in a negative sense, they thought greatness was all about their connection with Jesus. They were the chosen Twelve. They were privy to the inner circle teachings of the Messiah. And all of this would make them great when Jesus finally decided to battle those pesky Romans and set up the restored Kingdom of Israel. They could almost taste the greatness; they could almost see the common, non-inner circle people, bowing down before them. But, like so many other things, greatness looks different in the Kingdom of God. You see, they were right about the source of greatness. They were way off on what greatness means.
Luke 9:46-48 is about greatness. It is probably also a reason that the disciples did not understand what Jesus said about the Son of Man being handed over to men. They were blinded by the glare of anticipated glory. So, while Jesus is talking about death, a dispute enters in among them. Just who is the greatest. Maybe Peter, James and John boasted about how Jesus took them up onto the mountain to host Moses and Elijah. They may have conveniently left out the fact that they nearly missed the whole thing as a result of being overcome with sleep. Did some of them blurt out with “I’m important too!”? And isn’t fighting about being great a great way to miss the truth of God?
Jesus knows all about the disputing of their heart. The way this is worded implies that their heart owned the argument. Jesus knows what our hearts grab hold of. Instead of allowing their hearts to grasp the truth about who Jesus is, they were grabbing onto the debate over greatness. And I wonder if churches don’t succumb to this. So, in answer to this problem, Jesus grabs a little child and stood him by his side. In order to understand what is going on here, it is important to understand the culture of Jesus’ day. Important people spend time with important people. They hob-knobbed. Children were not seen or heard in Jewish society. Let the women and/or servants deal with them. The unimportant must tend to the unimportant. And here is the Son of Man – the perfect man – grabbing a child and setting him to his side.
But that is not all. He says, “Whoever welcomes this child – this unimportant person – upon my name.” Okay, there is a lot of discussion about what “upon my name” means. What if Jesus is saying that if you welcome this child upon the character of Jesus; upon who Jesus is, then you welcome Jesus himself. Greatness is about who you welcome because of who you know. If you know the character of Jesus, if you are shaped by the reputation of Jesus, then you will go about welcoming all manner of unimportant people. You will not go about bragging about how you know Jesus expecting others to be impressed with who you are because of who you know. And here is the thing: If you welcome Jesus you are welcoming the one who sent Jesus. Some times I wonder if we make Jesus’ words more difficult than need be. Count how many times Jesus uses the word receive. The key to being great is all about receiving. While the world looks at greatness as being able to separate yourself from the riff-raff, Jesus says, “Greatness is about being welcoming.” And when you are welcoming, that is when you will truly welcome God.
So, the one who is the smallest or least in the pecking order, is actually the one who is great in God’s kingdom. Why? Have you noticed that the people who argue about being great are often the ones who want so desperately be apart from; distinguished from the unimportant? For example, the biggest mansions are often the furthest away from the street and other houses. But the unimportant are often the ones who are welcoming, and being welcoming is what matters in the Kingdom.
Be great! Welcome the little children. Nah, that’s too easy in our culture. We love babies. Welcome the homeless; stand beside her and let her know that she matters. Welcome the prisoner. Visit him, study with him, let him know that he matters. This is not about children really. This is about welcoming whoever the world says is not important. This is about a heart that is captured not by disputes but by receiving; not by minimizing but by maximizing; not by making small but by making large. And once again, Jesus turns the order of things on its head and says, “Not in my Kingdom boys and girls.” Your connection to Jesus can make you great. But only if you grasp his character; only if that connection shapes your heart into a welcoming machine. Welcome on my friends. Grace and peace, Walter