Greatness in Light of Jesus
by Rev. Carmen Kinniburgh, Threshold Initiatives
The beginning of the new year is typically a time for reflection and resolution. But I was feeling weary. So, before transitioning back into the regular rhythm of life and ministry, I saw this as a time to just “be.” To be with my family, with myself, and with God. The past six months of my life have been focused on researching and writing a masters thesis, with deadlines influencing the cadence of my life. The journey towards the end of 2023 looked very different for my family, as I plodded away on my laptop in my basement office, trying to meet deadlines before Christmas. Along the way, Christmas baking, movies, and shopping for stocking stuffer excellence was sacrificed to reach my writing
goals. At some point, I realized that I couldn’t achieve both Christmas-greatness AND thesis-greatness. Which caused me to consider: how does one measure greatness in these areas, is it achievable, and what is my motivation for greatness?
The Synoptic Gospels each convey an interaction around greatness. In Matthew 18:1–5, Jesus poses a question about what it means to be great in the kingdom of heaven. Mark (9:33–37) and Luke (9:46–48) take a less flattering approach to the story, revealing that the disciples have been arguing about who amongst them is the greatest. In a cultural and historical context that was motivated by honour and status, determining one’s ranking of greatness amongst the disciples, was
likely a relevant concern.
But perhaps, the disciples felt a little sheepish about their childish argument. In the way only he can, Jesus flips the question of greatness upside down by bringing a child into the centre of the conversation. Children were among those with the least status in first-century Palestine. Mark records that Jesus embraces the child and says, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Aligning himself with worldly greatness by elevating his recognition and status was never the goal for Jesus. In the incarnation he gave up power and prestige to become one of
us. Welcoming and embracing the weak, lowly, forgotten, and childlike, was.
Jesus’ words in Matt 18:2, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” have caused me to pause and ask: what do I need to release in order to receive from my Father as a little child? Where has my heart shifted towards thoughts of greatness for myself, and away from seeing myself as welcomed and embraced by the Father because I am His child? As you consider these questions, know that His arms are open in embrace and welcome to you, and like Paul, may you hear Him say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (1 Cor 12:9).RevR