Look at Jesus in the Gospels. Look closely. Look hard. Is he a great man? By whose standards? Is he rich? Or famous? Who says so?
Look closely at Jesus. He's a poor man, not rich with worldly wealth. He's well-known in the regions where he preached, but he wasn't well known in the wider world in his lifetime. Is he a great man? Not great like the Caesars who ruled Rome. Not great like the kings who ruled Israel on behalf of Rome. Not great like a wealthy merchant, or a scholar, a well-to-do lawyer, or a saintly rabbi.
Look hard at Jesus. His clothing is not fancy. His sandals are not expensive. He owns no home. He never wrote anything, that we know of.
Is he a great man? He told lots of stories and parables. He worked some miracles, even some really surprising ones. He gathered many followers, lost some of them along the way. He died a criminal's death by execution in the most horrible way possible. Is he great? Hardly, one would say.
Hardly would be the "human" word for it. Outside the New Testament there's not much early proof that he even existed. Not except for the billions who have lived these two thousand years bearing his name. Not except for the countless many who have died with his name on their lips. Not except for the throngs whose lives are different because of his life.
Jesus thinks of greatness in ways different from the human, worldly way of defining it. For Jesus, greatness is humility, patience, kindness, generosity, sacrifice, service, love. To become great the way Jesus knows greatness, one must become humble.
The human word on greatness is wealth, power, position, influence, money, possessions, fame. Jesus warns his followers not to accept this human word on greatness as the last word, but to seek out God's word on what greatness means. "The greatest among you must serve the rest," Jesus says in another place. To be a servant, to be humble and patient, to be someone who loves - this is what God's Word has to say about greatness.
For Jesus is God's Word, and the word that he has spoken has to be, for us who believe, the last word.
Do we seek to be great? All of us desire that - it's only human. And yet Jesus says it is more human to be great as God defines it. Serve! Love! Give, and forgive! When we do these we are more human because we are more like Jesus, the Son of God.
Look at Jesus in the Gospels. Look closely, look hard. Study his features - the way he lives, the words he speaks, the things he does. Learn from the only Master we can have. Fancy clothes? No - but dressed in God's love. Nice house? No - but at home in his Father's kingdom. So should we be: dressed for success in God's eyes, at home where he invites us to live.
Fr. John G. Stillmank is Moderator of the Curia for the Diocese of Madison and pastor of St. Andrew Parish, Verona, and St. William Parish, Paoli.