By Pastor Anthony L. Scott
Writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once wrote, “that while mankind is always advancing, man always remains the same.” As I reflect on this episode between Jesus and his followers I believe I understand what he means. Here is a situation far removed from us in terms of time, but in terms of what transpires, quite familiar. We have here what might be labeled a first century version of “the rat race.”
Men competing with men. Human beings vying with other human beings for positions of preeminence. The dog-eat-dog struggle to get ahead. This is precisely the environment in which most of us are called to live out our existence.
The greatest surprise is that Jesus did not condemn them for what they were discussing. He openly accepted their struggling as a very natural part of the human dream. Underneath the rat race is a universal yearning that gropes for fulfillment. It is a hunger for significance which is embedded in each of us. Who among us does not want to feel that his or her life amounts to something, or that that we have worth as a person? Again, Jesus acknowledges these instincts are part of our essential nature. What He does is approach their problem from a different angle. He focuses not on the need but on how they are trying to meet their need. The problem was not in their desire but in their method. They were attempting to meet a universal hunger with a wrong kind of significance.
A group of anthropologists once found natives in an Australian bush country. They found this isolated tribe in a severe condition of malnutrition. Their diet consisted exclusively of a kind of fruit that looked and tasted good but had no nutritional value. So, they were eating heartily, having their appetites satisfied while at the same time starving to death.
Jesus points out to his followers that they are attempting to gain significance in the age-old pattern of getting ahead of other people. They were trying to establish the value of their lives by out-achieving others. This king of the mountain approach is how the pagans tried to establish their greatness, but Jesus reminds them that my formula is that the first shall be last and last shall be first.
There is a better way to live. This way of gaining significance by competing puts unbearable pressure on every moment of one’s life. You are never really at ease. This cannot help but cause your inner life to overheat and become miserable. It also poisons any authentic relationship you might have with other people. A personnel director of a major cooperation observed the difference between people who want to be something and a people who want to do something. Her conclusion was that over the long span of a career, the person who wants to do something is worth at least a million dollars more than a person who is hung up on having to be something.
What do we do with such insight that Jesus gives in relation to ourselves? In the Sermon on the Mount, He says, “You are the light of the world” not you are becoming the light of the world or you must excel to gain the light. You are the light. There is significance in you already by the very gift of creation and the gift of salvation which brings re-creation. You and I already posses worth, not because of what we do, but because of who we are essentially. Significance then, is not a matter of our being empty and needing to fill ourselves by achieving; it is more a matter of embracing the fullness God has placed within us. This insight frees us from the need to be something and releases us to do something. The product of this way of grace is productivity. Enter this week not seeking to be someone, know that you are someone in God and enjoy all that God places in your hands to do.