“Success comes with hard work” was the mantra that Ashok heard growing up in his wealthy family. Ashok’s father, Mr. Kumar, was a shrewd businessman and after emigrating from India to England with the family 30 years ago he started a transport logistics company- ‘Frontline Logistics’. Frontline went on to become one of the leading transport companies in the country and had more than seven thousand employees. Mr. Kumar would regularly remind Ashok, as he would drive him around in his Rolls-Royce Phantom, how they were lucky to have so much power and influence and that they should not take their success for granted.
Ashok often wondered what the real meaning for the word ‘success’ was. His family had vast reserves of financial wealth, and even political connections, and to his father the word ‘success’ clearly meant lots of power and money. But Ashok often felt that this definition was hollow and selfish. Mr. Kumar recently commissioned an artist to create a large brass family ‘coat of arms’ for their mantelpiece, the motto on it read “greatness accomplished’ in Sanskrit.
In the Mark 10 passage, James and John feel that greatness would be ‘accomplished’ if they were granted to sit next to Jesus in his glory. This was their primary request from Jesus: ‘Lord, we want to be great like you’. For James and John, greatness and success in their culture meant being in or close to power. On one side this request seems fitting: they know Jesus is God and want to be close to him in the next life. But the other side shows a misunderstanding that Jesus sees through: they wanted to be powerful, like God, because that would be true success and greatness in their eyes.
Like Mr. Kumar, James and John have a clearly defined view of what greatness is: power and the things that bring power. Times haven’t changed much; money and power remain the dominant indicators of greatness and success in so many cultures around the world today. Jesus is quick to respond to this request, he notes that such a request for power cannot be granted by him. He then uses this opportunity to teach all his disciples what true greatness is. He says that the rulers in the world ‘lord it’ over them and those who are ‘great’ simply have an authoritative approach in leadership. In other words, they use their position to dominate others. Jesus teaches the opposite approach. He says that those who are truly great must be slaves for all. He then uses his own example of serving and dying for others as the standard they should follow, as opposed to the cultural perspective of the time.
What makes one great, according to Jesus, is their attitude and practice of servitude to others. To follow Jesus and obey his commands means to walk the road of greatness: serving and giving oneself to all people. Ashok’s skepticism at his father’s view of greatness and success is warranted according to the teaching of Jesus.
How easy it can be for our thinking to be molded by the culturally accepted pursuits of greatness and success of our day. As leaders we must be careful and prayerful as to our true motivations in any position of influence we hold. Are we pursuing the successes of the world or following the greatness of the way of Jesus?
God, I recognize that it is easy for me to pursue “success” and miss opportunities to offer true greatness in my interactions with others. I ask you to open my eyes to see where I can lead and serve, to empower those who follow me. I open the borders of my understanding to be taught by your Word and the example of Jesus and others who serve with greatness.