1At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2He called a child, whom he put among them, 3and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
6“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.7Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!
8“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire.
Greatness isn’t necessarily a bad goal, but it’s probably the wrong one. The disciples ask Jesus about greatness (asking for a friend, of course). But Jesus knows his disciples well enough to worry about their pursuit of greatness. Jesus ignores their question in the abstract warns them of the danger in no uncertain terms. He calls a child forward and tells the disciples that they must become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven. And lest our minds wander too far, he clarifies this to mean humility. “Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” We’re not often asked to be humble. We want to do well at work, or just want to do well at the things that occupy our time. No one wakes up in the morning hoping they’ll be mediocre at their job. “I hope I’m really humbled at the gym today,” says no one. But maybe Jesus wants us to spend some time thinking about our efforts at self-improvement—or less time, rather—so that we can pay attention to the humble ones around us, who we harm, even inadvertently, with our aspirations to greatness. It may not be the life we would pick for ourselves; but it may be the one God wants for us anyway. Greatness may not be the goal we strain for up ahead; maybe it’s the gratitude of the people you pass by along the way.
God, you are great beyond our understanding or imagination; yet in Jesus Christ you stoop to serve and love at the ultimate cost to yourself. We are tentative disciples, but we ask that you help us along the way to true greatness—not beyond us, but beneath us—in lives of service, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.