Posted on April 30, 2014
#52: Incidental Greatness
Miss Ivy was a small woman, gray-haired and African-American, with a soft Virginia accent. She worked for many years as hostess in the breakfast room at the Best Western in Colonial Williamsburg. Our family traveled a lot; we’d met many hostesses—but none like Miss Ivy.
She had the usual duties, filling orange juice and milk pitchers, wiping tables, making sure cereal dispensers and bagel trays were stocked. But that’s not what I remember about her. I remember her hugging all the kids, greeting every visitor with her bright smile, memorizing their names. She gave each person the impression they were the most important one in the room. She showed genuine interest, getting to know a bit about them, asking about their plans for the day, offering helpful suggestions. When you left her breakfast room, you felt you’d made a new friend.
Miss Ivy was good for business. Her gentle warmth drew families—including ours—back to the Best Western. She became well-known. When she finally retired, there was a big to-do and newspapers wrote feature articles about her. She never set out to be great. She just served well.
I think Miss Ivy was exactly the kind of person Jesus meant in today’s scripture.
Pick up your Bible and read Mark 9:30-41.
(See parallels in Matthew 18:1ff and Luke 9:46-50.)
Jesus was on the final leg of His journey to Jerusalem where He would be arrested and crucified. He’d been trying to prepare His disciples and getting little response. Instead, He found them arguing over who would hold the highest rank in His kingdom. Several recent events had probably led to the debate.
• Jesus had promised Peter “the keys to the kingdom” (Mk. 8:29 and Mt. 16:15-19)—still one of the most misunderstood verses in scripture.
• Peter, James, and John had been selected to witness Jesus’ transfiguration (Mk. 9:2ff).
• The other nine disciples had failed to cast a single demon out of a suffering boy (Mk. 9:14-29).
“Are some of us better, more important, than the others?” they might have wondered.
The Twelve could sense a change in Jesus. They knew something was coming. Perhaps Jesus was about to be crowned king! Who would rule alongside Him? Their jockeying for position had begun (and it wouldn’t end here. Take a sneak peek at Mark 10:35-44).
Position was important to the Jews. They craved seats of honor at the table, preferential treatment in the marketplace, and status in the synagogue. Many of Jesus’ parables and teachings battled pride and promoted humility; see, for example, Matthew 19:27-30; 20:25-28; 23:5-12; and Luke 14:7-11.
Truthfully, position is important to us too. We like special treatment. We look forward to bettering our station in life, to getting ahead. Sadly, that push for prestige often infects our church life, causing us to honor one over another, to struggle for power, to make sure our service is noticed. But Jesus taught that service that’s seen has already received its reward and can expect no more (Mt. 6:1-2, 5, 16.) Only what’s unseen will be rewarded (Mt. 6:3-4, 6, 17-18).
Jesus’ stance on the matter was clear. There’s no place in His kingdom for
• personal ambition
• or showmanship.
Seek greatness, and you will not find it. Serve, and you’ll stumble upon greatness. True kingdom greatness isn’t intentional. It’s incidental. The minute you strive for it, it eludes you.
When you serve, don’t lift your eyes to see who’s noticing. Close your eyes and pray, offering your service as a gift to God. Then, greatness will find you.
Give it some thought: How do you keep your service humble and your hunger to be noticed under control?
Thanks for joining me for Wednesdays In the Word and this post in our current Bible study called Knowing Jesus. If you’re following this series but haven’t subscribed, you can have each Wednesday’s post delivered straight to your inbox by entering your email address at right. It’s quick and easy!
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© Diane McLoud 2014