There's a brief but fascinating story in Mark 9 about Jesus and his band of merry men who were walking to Capernaum. In the background, Jesus overhears them arguing about which of them was the most awesome. In their defense, they have been groupies of the most famous person in Galilee and up close witnesses to countless miracles. They were probably feeling pretty good about themselves.
Rather than confront them on the road, Jesus waited until they got to the house where they were staying for the night. "What were you arguing about on the Way?"
Their response was the same as when my kids get called out. Silence. Total silence. I'm usually able to sweat out a confession from my kids at this point, but Jesus took the opportunity to teach them, saying, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the last -- and a servant of all."
This is a consistent theme in Jesus' message: there is no room in God's Kingdom for selfish ambition or self-promotion. I can understand how you might get a different impression by looking at the public face of the church in America, but I can't see it in Jesus.
We can pursue our own greatness without even realizing we are doing it. We pursue our own greatness when we criticize others, gossip or slander others, attempt to control others, or when we seek a platform and applause. So how do we measure greatness under God's reign? Knowledge? Wisdom? Numbers? Wealth? Influence? Power? Applause?
Jesus defined greatness when he took up a towel and washed his followers' feet.
It's easy to get distracted with our own sense of self-importance, but there are more important things to be done on the Way than jockeying for greatness. Following the Way of Jesus leads us toward humility and service. If we are going to get in line, let's go for the back of it!