Who is the greatest? Jesus disciples were caught out when Jesus asked them what they had been arguing about. They were embarrassed because they had been squabbling about who was the best disciple. None of them had really been focussed on what Jesus had been teaching them. They couldn’t understand what he meant when he talked about the Son of Man being betrayed into the hands of men. This message went straight over their heads, they blocked it out. Instead they walked along behind Jesus trying to prove to each other how each one was a better disciple than the other.
Perhaps as churches today we are rather like that. Anglicans, Catholics, Methodists, all denominations, trying to justify why our discipleship is so much better than other churches. Do we entangle ourselves in arguments about worship styles, liturgy, hymns and ‘churchmanship’ because, like the disciples, we are too confused and apprehensive to make the effort to understand the true message God is trying to share with us? We choose the type of churchmanship that suits us, but if our minds are preoccupied with ways in which we and others worship are they really focussed on the message itself?
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus holds up the example of the little child who accepts Gods word at face value, who does not perceive or look for the undercurrents in the attitudes of others, but cuts straight through to the message. A child knows that God wants us to love one another as God loves us; a clear message, unambiguous and direct. Perhaps the little child he spoke of was only three or four years old, wasn’t life simple then, but for the developing child, those in our junior schools and older, the story changes. These children begin to look at the signs that accompany the message; the conflict between words and actions. They rightly question the ‘do as I say, not what I do’ mentality that surrounds them and, not yet able to make sense of the complexities that shape our attitudes, they reject our example, and with it they reject the message, they reject God.
In the wisdom of Solomon we are given a picture of the attitude towards the religious man held by those who have rejected God for more earthly goals. If we look hard enough at the world around us we can see that things have not changed. The just man puts his head above the parapet because he reminds the world of their own lack of faith. Unfortunately generations of Christians have not helped to dispel the ‘holier than thou’ image that, instead of allowing us to spread God’s simple message among all His people, builds a barrier between them and us. The message we give them is more like ‘follow our way of life because we are right, we’re doing what God wants us to!’ and with so many different, and apparently contradictory, Christian ways of life it is no wonder that many people throw up their hands and avoid the whole bunch of us.
James presents the answer that all Christians would do well to meditate upon. ‘Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.’ Wisdom is not cleverness. It is not the ability to defend our own viewpoint; rather it is the willingness to strengthen the connection between God’s spirit and our own. The ability to learn from the experience we gain in striving to discern the will of God in our own lives, and apply what we have learned selflessly and with humility.
Who is the greatest? We don’t need to ask this question. If we do we have missed the point. God is the greatest, with His son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit that inspires and strengthens us. Whatever our denomination or churchmanship if this is our simple message then perhaps we will have a greater chance of bringing home more of his scattered people.