Monday, September 14, 2009

(More On) True Greatness

(My friend Hal Ronning, in Jerusalem)

Luke 22:24 - "Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest." Jesus responds to this by making an analogy between the kings who lord it over the Gentiles, and his own disciples. Jesus tells his disciples that they are not to be like these kings, who exert power over their "subjects" and personally gain from their "benevolence." That... is evil. Punishing.

The disciples are not talking about what true greatness is, but about which one of them is greater than all the others. In this they show themselves to be still top immersed in the comparative, competitive world-system that produces the agonies of pride and shame.

C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, wrote an entire chapter on pride called "The Great Sin." Lewis says:

"The heart of Christian morality is… Humility. The opposite of this… the Kingdom of Darkness thing… is Pride... Pride is the complete anti-God state of mind... Each person's pride is in competition with everyone else's pride... Pride is essentially competitive… Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the other person. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking, there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone."

I think the other side of pride is shame. Both pride and shame are forms of self-obsession, and all self-obsession punishes one's self and others and hinders the ability to love and be loved. Lewis Smedes, in his beautiful book Shame and Grace, says that “shame is a ‘heavy feeling’ of not measuring up that can easily lead to a feeling of self-disgust and fundamental unacceptability. Shame is a vague, undefined heaviness that presses on our spirit, dampens our gratitude for the goodness of life, and slackens the free flow of joy.” (5, 8)

Jesus wants to free his disciples from the pride-shame continuum by which people rank and compare themselves with others. I have found that many people who are proud and posture themselves as superior to others actually have deep-seated inferiority and worthlessness inside of themselves. These dark things make if difficult to serve other people in the purest sense, which is, expecting nothing in return from them. To serve others without expecting to receive honor and glory and praise from them is freedom. To serve others without wallowing in self-degradation is freedom. Jesus' kingdom has nothing to do withy such things. In the Kingdom of God honor, for everyone and towards everyone, prevails.

Aim low. Submit to one another and love one another. Be great for God. Do great things for God. Be free from comparing yourself with others. Celebrate when others do great things for God.