Greatest Among You

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In my reading of the New Testament, something recently stood out to me.  Just before the Savior’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the mother of Zebedee’s children came seeking a specific blessing for her sons James and John. The scriptures read, “She saith unto [Jesus], Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.”

The Savior’s loving response was, “Ye know not what ye ask.”  He then questioned James and John, “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

Their eager and perhaps foolish answer was “We are able.”

The Savior knew they could not comprehend what they were saying.  To rise above all things, as Jesus would do, they would be required to descend below all things.   He then foretold of the tribulations and death they would endure as his special witnesses, saying “ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with,” but he added,  “to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my father.”

I wonder why the mother of James and John asked for what she did.  We can sense her dedication to the Savior and her great love for her sons.  And yet, I wonder if her motivations were less noble.  I wonder if she, like most mothers, saw her children destined for greatness. I wonder if she was anxious to know where they stood in a hierarchy. Were they the greatest?  Were they the most important? Perhaps her subconscious motivation was to feel that her life and her contribution had been meaningful.

This mother’s special request revealed an unflattering sentiment in the other apostles.  The scriptures report, “when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren.”  It seems that they, too, wrestled with a desire to be greatest, best and most beloved.  This is a natural human tendency.  If there is to be a best, we want that title for our own. Indeed, the issue of hierarchy pervades our lives.  Our society is acutely focused on who is the “BEST.” Everything is a competition.  Our sports teams, political parties and even genders vie for preeminent status.  This issue is at the heart of today’s most heated controversies.

I wonder at the pervasive temptation of self-elevation.   The apostles were righteous people who would soon go forth to fearlessly preach Christ’s gospel and ultimately seal their testimonies with their blood.  And yet even they had insecurities and a need to be important.  I find comfort in their struggle.

It is our inheritance, as children of God, to be secure, adored and cherished.  The joy of divine parental love is what we experienced before we passed through the veil; and whether we recognize it or not, it is what we most want to reclaim.  Because Satan knows how keenly we miss that feeling of ultimate validation, he has great success tempting us in this way. His lies tell us we must earn our value through struggle and competition.

God did not abandon us because we left his presence.  And if we will trust in him, he will bring us everything we need to be happy.  Consider our development en utero.  There was no struggle or toil.  Rather, we were gifted the very nutrients we needed to develop into a whole and miraculous being—beating heart, acute senses, operative organs, arms and legs, beautiful baby skin.  And yet, after the miracle of our effortless creation, we felt the need to take over, essentially saying, “I can take it from here Lord.”

The ancient Greeks used the word “ego” to express the state of a small, separated self.  That is exactly what ego is.  It is the part of us that separates from God, that trusts in the arm of flesh, and decides to go it alone. The ego creates a chasm of separation between ourselves and the ultimate validation in which we desire to bask. But the Savior invites us to surrender … to “consider the lilies,” to “take his yoke upon [us]” and “find rest to [our] souls.

To relinquish ego is to surrender to God.  We sometimes view surrender as defeat.  But surrendering to God takes great faith and determination.  It shows personal responsibility for our thoughts, opinions and attitudes.  It shows we are conscientious enough to ask for help.  Surrender is simply not passive.

Self-elevation separates and isolates us when the very thing we desire to achieve is connection and belonging.  The Savior’s consistent invitation is remarkable. And as I read it, I am filled with a testimony that he truly understands us.  When asked, “who is the greatest in the kingdom,” the Savior redirected from a question focused on a small, separated self to an answer focused on a large, interconnected family. He taught that “whosoever will be greatest among you, let him be your minister.  And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.”  He wants us to be connected, to be part of something larger than ourselves.  In other words, when we are tempted to compare ourselves to others or to ask “who is the greatest,” we should immediatly redirect our thoughts to these questions: “How can I serve?   How can I use my unique gifts to add value?  How can I make a difference?”

The Savior invites us to relinquish the ego that separates us from our Heavenly Father and to become one with him in purpose as we serve his children with love.  It is only as we “lose ourselves” that we can be found.  And when we are found, we will discover just how spacious it is on the right hand and the left hand of the Savior.

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