The disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:1-3
Whenever I get together with my three best friends from high school, we play a card game called Pounce. It’s like solitaire on steroids, and with four people. It’s super intense and ridiculously fast-paced, and I—being neither of those things—never win. My friend Anne is a superstar at all things requiring a) speed and b) focus on several things at a time. So Anne wins the most; then Lora; then Erin. I’m definitely in 4th place of four. BUT…I have played this game a lot. I’m actually probably not terrible. I’m just the worst in this group. I have a feeling if I played Pounce with a different crowd, I might be pretty good.
But it’s all relative, right?
How often, even beyond frantic card games, do we determine our greatness (or success, or happiness, or attractiveness, or smarts…) relative to other people? How often do we decide we’re doing OK (or not) by looking around and seeing how everyone else is doing? Some of us are more competitive than others, but I think, for most of us, it’s hard to avoid sizing ourselves up like that.
In today’s reading, Jesus tells his disciples to stop. Stop wasting your energy comparing yourself to others. Stop worrying so much about who’s ‘greatest.’ Your standards are so different from mine. Instead, Jesus tells his disciples (and us) to put our effort into something different. He says to follow him, we need to change; we need to be like children. We are invited to establish greater trust in him, greater reliance on him, and greater humility in general. It’s not about being greater than the other guy; it’s about putting our trust in the one who truly is great.
When we size ourselves up (and size up other people) by making comparisons, our foundation will always be shifting. (After all, I’m a crummy Pounce player with my three best friends, but I’m probably pretty good against someone else—so where does that leave me?) But when we put our energy into relying on who Jesus is, what Jesus has done, and who Jesus says we are, we root ourselves in a sure and steady foundation.
May you set aside the burden of worrying about who is greatest (or smartest, or funniest, or happiest, or prettiest, or wealthiest, or most liked, or best dressed, or most talented…) and instead put your energy into asking God to nurture in you a childlike reliance on the Great One, who has humbled himself for the sake of the world.