Lent, Day 37: Being great.

Today’s reading: Mark 10:35-45

Even those closest to Him failed to understand; it’s no wonder we have trouble getting it.

It’s not just our businesses, our homes, our churches, our schools and communities, our country… on every level, from the family to the nation, the desire for power is human nature. Living together in societies seems to demand structure, leaders and followers, planners and do-ers, and all of us find ourselves somewhere in the ladder of authority. There are people in power over us, and others over whom we have authority. Success, inevitably, becomes defined by our ability to move upward on that ladder. We admire those who show ambition, the desire and the drive to keep moving up and up.

All of which makes me think, if we had to choose one single teaching of Jesus that must be The Most Difficult Challenge For Our Human Culture, it must be this one. It is contrary to everything we have been taught about this earthly life (and The American Dream)… where climbing the ladder and becoming the greatest is equated with financial success, personal value, and even national pride (how often do we repeat the conventional wisdom that we live in “the greatest country in the world”?).

My emotional response to this text is, even as I type this, bouncing back and forth between “relief” and “embarrassment.” Relief that Jesus is resetting the balance of our efforts, reorienting us to God’s standards of success, allowing us to get off the ladder. Relief that the true value of humans is, simply, as humans… not as acheivers, or earners, or winners, or owners. Relief that I can stop trying to stretch ever higher, and instead kneel down.

But… also, embarrassment. A lot of embarrassment. It’s embarrassing that our nation can be divided so violently over who is in or out of power; we can’t even find ways to work together, much less serve one another. It’s even more embarrassing, though, that our churches and denominations have fallen prey to the same drama. And it’s embarrassing that every day I forget it, myself, in my own home and with the people I love the best.

I bet James and John were embarrassed, too, when they realized their mistake. They’d forgotten already how it was, there with the people they loved, and who loved them, the best.

May we daily be reminded that it is not too late for our lives, our homes, our churches, our community to be modeled after the one who came “not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” May we choose to step off the ladder, to let go of our striving notions of success, and to stop reassuring ourselves that being the greatest is important (when, in truth, being the greatest is at best irrelevant, and at worst delusional). May we begin to esteem ourselves and others not by the quantity of our power, but by the quality and the action of our love.

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