The Natural Pecking Order
The disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Matthew 18:1
A few years ago, while running a distance race, I got passed by a woman who was quite pregnant. I’m not going to lie. That stung. I certainly didn’t have any expectations of winning the race – I’m not fast – but neither did I expect for someone five or six months pregnant to blow by me that early in the day. It took my ego longer than it took my legs to recover from that experience.
It is of course, my ego that was offended. It’s simply natural for most of us (men at least) to compare ourselves to those around us to see how we stack up. From childhood – no one has to teach us – we develop a natural pecking wherever we are. Our pride prefers to be exalted and it is chaffed when we are put down. We’re competitive. This is our nature, to want to be at the top.
Like so many of our natural tendencies though, this is not Jesus’ way. In today’s passage, the disciples had followed their natural desire for greatness and came to him, perhaps to settle a bet. They wanted to know who was going to be number one in the kingdom of heaven. These men were Jesus’ favorites, handpicked by him after all. Surely one of us must be the greatest, Jesus. Tell us which one it is. I bet it’s me.
Jesus, in typical Jesus-fashion, turned their natural view upside down. If you think you are the greatest, and if you seek to be the greatest, you cannot be the greatest. Only if you assume the humble position of a child – forgetting about being at the top – can you truly be great. The disciples could not have imagined a child being above them in the pecking order, which is exactly the kind of humility Jesus asked them to embrace. The only way you win this game, is not to play.
Paradoxically, seeking self-exaltation is the one way to never find true greatness according to Jesus. Pride points our lives at ourselves. This is the opposite of faith. If we want to live the way he desires, in faith and recovery, then we must daily abandon our pride, embracing the humble station of a child. This is not the natural way for us, but it is Jesus’ way.