46 An argument started among them as to which of them might be the greatest. 47 But Jesus, knowing what they were thinking in their heart, took a child and stood him by His side, 48 and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me; for the one who is least among all of you, this is the one who is great.”
This was a pretty common topic of discussion among the disciples. They couldn’t except their equality in Jesus’ eyes because that wasn’t the way the world worked.
The world has a hierarchy. There are people on top of the ladder. The rich, the politically powerful, the elite, the famous, and then there are the nobodies: the folks who work in obscurity, those in poverty, the ill, the powerless, the forgotten. They don’t get loving tributes from the news media when they die. If they’re lucky, they might get an Obit in the local paper. Their names are never bandied about by talking heads as the greatest human beings, no matter how good they were or how much their lives impacted others.
And we desperately don’t want to be that person. We want to be at the top of the heap. Our pride and vanity demand recognition from others of just how special we are. We crave importance. We crave significance. We crave meaning. I think it’s a part of our mortality. We crave it because our mind rebels strongly against the idea that in the grand scheme of things, nothing we do will matter and we will be forgotten within three generations.
So we strive to make a name for ourselves and join the elite pantheon of human beings who names live on in fame, their work, or the monuments they created.
Of course, even this is futile:
18 Thus I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun, for I must leave it to the man who will come after me. 19 And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the fruit of my labor for which I have labored by acting wisely under the sun. This too is vanity. 20 Therefore I completely despaired of all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun. 21 When there is a man who has labored with wisdom, knowledge and skill, then he gives his legacy to one who has not labored with them. This too is vanity and a great evil. 22 For what does a man get in all his labor and in his striving with which he labors under the sun? 23 Because all his days his task is painful and grievous; even at night his [r]mind does not rest. This too is vanity.
Solomon’s capturing our mind’s rebellion against our own mortality and the knowledge that no matter what we do, in the end, because we’re going to die and the memories of us and all that we have accomplished will simply fade away or go to another that it’s all meaningless. What good does it do us to have our name continue on save as a small sop to our vanity?
The disciples didn’t understand this at the time. They wanted power. They wanted to be important. More important than their friends and fellow disciples. They wanted to be Jesus’ 2nd in command. Vice King, if you will.
Jesus’ answer to them is a values change. He brings a child to Him, and tells them that if they receive a child in His name, they are receiving Him. And if they receive Him, they are receiving God the Father.
Mankind may not notice the small acts of kindness committed by someone living in obscurity, but the Lord does. You may never be lauded for your Charity and compassion by men, but God sees your work that you do.
So when you [a]give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 3 But when you [b]give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your [c]giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners [d]so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
Don’t seek what the world seeks. Seek the things of God, which are to love your neighbor as yourself and in doing so, loving God who set the example for us in the life of Jesus Christ. There are many people who have died without anyone lauding their names, who received from the Lord the recognition due to them. Who are called the friends of God, and who have received an eternal reward in the persons of those whose lives they touched.
So don’t seek power, He tells them. Seek to do what is right, seek to serve your fellow man, seek to show Charity, and you will be considered great in God’s eyes, even if the world never hears of you and your name is forgotten in this life. God will remember.