When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Chances are good that you didn’t want to be an actuary or a coal miner (no offense if that is your current vocation).
When I ask my 5- and 3-year-old daughters what they want to be when they grow-up, they describe epic ambitions to be doctors, Olympic athletes, police officers, astronauts, and Disney princesses. Like every other kid, my daughters want to be great. They want to save the world. They want to be a hero. Do you remember what it felt like to desire greatness the way a child does?
As we grow up, life and experience may cause our desire for greatness to diminish, but I don’t think it ever goes away. Case in point? Today’s Scripture reading, featuring James and John’s request to sit at the left and right hand of Jesus in heaven. The desire for greatness planted in James and John’s hearts long ago had not gone away. Here they are as grown men clamoring for the chance to be viewed for all eternity as the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.
You and I may not be making that exact same request of Jesus today, but I think we all wrestle with the ambition to be seen as great, powerful, successful, and influential compared to those around us. The question is, is our desire for greatness inherently sinful? Or is it simply misdirected?
Over the next two days, we will take a closer look at this passage in Mark, and the surprising fact that Jesus doesn’t condemn the disciples (or our) desire for greatness. In fact, he encourages it. But in the same breath, Jesus radically redefines what true greatness is, giving us a valuable lesson as we lean ambitiously into our careers.