Today’s reading was Mark 9:33-37
33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them,37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
How classic. Just before this, Jesus has predicted his own death and resurrection, and the disciples don’t really understand the implications of this. Then they engage in an argument about who is the greatest. I wonder if they were thinking about who would take over as the leader if Jesus were no longer in that position. He’s still there with them, yet the thought of potential promotion lures them into this discussion.
I think it is no mistake that the Bible is so hard on the issue of pride, which is inevitably connected to ego. The untamed ego can be deadly to ministry. I remember a story once told by Tony Campolo, who recalled a time when he preached a great sermon during preaching class at his seminary. As he sat down, the professor came over to him, and Tony was expecting warm praise and compliments. But what the professor said was this: “Tony, you can’t convince people that you are great, and that Jesus is great at the same time.”
If our goal is ever self-promotion, Jesus will be eclipsed. I struggle when I hear preachers who preach more about their own experience than about Jesus. I understand the importance of explaining how faith has worked itself out in their personal narrative, but at the end, am I left thinking, “Wow. This person is great!” or “Wow. What an awesome God we serve?”
We may think that ego and pride are only expressed by the loud and very visible, but this is not the case. Ego and pride can also be those things that keep us quiet. We think we should maybe invite our neighbor to church, but we can’t face the potential rejection if they say no, so we remain quiet. We think we should talk to our stressed co-worker about the peace that Jesus offers, but we fear embarrassment if we get labeled as a religious nut. And so, our preservation of ego, respect, the opinion of others, stifles us and keeps us quiet. This can be as much connected to ego as the self-promoting preacher.
I have to ask myself, “If I didn’t care so much about what people thought of me, what more would I share? What would I dare say? What would I dare do?”
In the end, on one side of the scales is my ego and embarrassment, and on the other, a person’s eternal destiny. Which will I allow to take precedence?