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The Greatest

September 21, 2018

I used to love to watch those top 100 clip shows on VH1.  "Top 100 Pop Songs," "Top 100 Songs of the '80s," "100 Greatest Rock n Roll Songs of All Time" (controversial opinion - I always go with "Kashmir" by Led Zeppelin).  They'd get all these famous musicians and industry icons together to talk about which songs were the best and why.  When you got to the top ten, things often got a little heated, because ultimately all those "experts" had different criteria by which they were judging.

I'm not a huge sports person, but I know these debates often exist among sports fans too, and I imagine the statistics associated athletics can make the determinations a bit easier. Greatest franchise?  Greatest quarterback?  Greatest goalie?  Greatest hitter?  But even there you can run into problems.  Are you judging the greatest hitter based on RBIs or homeruns or batting averages or all of the above?

The criteria by which you judge "the greatest" makes all the difference.  Is the greatest rock band the one with the most hit songs or the one whose music pushed innovative boundaries?  Is the greatest film about the acting or the directing or the cinematography?  Is the greatest president about domestic policy or foreign affairs?  I find when I have these "greatest" debates, things often devolve into simply debating the criteria.

In Sunday's gospel lesson, Jesus catches the disciples having a debate about who among themselves is the greatest.  The greatest disciple debate - "Top 100 Disciples."  When Jesus asks them what they were talking about, they at least have the good sense to be too embarrassed to admit it.

And then Jesus lays out for them exactly what the criteria are for greatness in discipleship.  And his answer undercuts the very practice of ever debating such a thing.  "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all."  Whoever wants to be great has to stop talking about and thinking about their own greatness.

And I think this criteria works because it points to what discipleship is truly about. Discipleship is not about just claiming a name - you can't just call yourself a Christian and be done with it.  It's about the work you do, the ways in which you are a servant of all without thought to your position in the rankings. Because if you aim to be last in order to be first...well then you've missed the point there too.

And in that, Jesus knocks down the whole notion of a "top 100 in faith." The rankings are erased.  A "holier than thou" attitude is exposed as a fraud.  The distractions of comparing ourselves to others are gone so we can focus on true discipleship.  True discipleship - whose one criterion is acts of service to all.

See you Sunday,


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