THE GREATEST

Rev. John Kha Tran

Bubba was bragging to his boss one day, "You know that I know everyone there is to know. Just name someone, anyone, and I know them."

Tired of his boasting, his boss called his bluff, "OK, Bubba how about Tom Cruise?"

"Sure, yes, Tom and I are old friends, and I can prove it."

So Bubba and his boss fly out to Hollywood and knock on Tom Cruise's door, and sure enough, Tom Cruise, shouts, "Bubba! Great to see you! You and your friend come right in and join me for lunch!" Impressed, but still skeptical, the boss tells Bubba that he thinks Bubba's knowing Cruise was just lucky.

"No, no, just name anyone else," Bubba says.

"President Obama," his boss quickly retorts.

"Yes," Bubba says, "I know him, let's fly out to Washington." And off they go.

At the White House, Obama on the tour and motions him and his boss over, saying, "Bubba, what a surprise, I was just on my way to a meeting, but you and your friend come on in and let's have a cup of coffee first and catch up."

Well, the boss is much shaken by now, but still not totally convinced. After they leave the White House, he expresses his doubts to Bubba, who again implores him to name anyone else.

"The Pope," his boss replies. "Sure!" says Bubba. "My folks are from Germany, and I've known the Pope a long time." Off they fly to Rome.

Bubba and his boss are assembled with the masses in Vatican Square when Bubba says, "This will never work. I can't catch the Pope's eye among all these people. Tell you what, I know all the guards so let me just go upstairs and I'll come out on the balcony with the Pope."

Bubba disappears into the crowd headed toward the Vatican. Sure enough, half an hour later Bubba emerges with the Pope on the balcony. By the time Bubba returns, he finds that his boss has had a heart attack and is surrounded by paramedics. Working his way to his boss' side, Bubba asks him, "What happened?"

His boss looks up and says, "I was doing fine until you and the Pope came out on the balcony and the man next to me said, “Who’s that on the balcony with Bubba?”

The Greatest

The disciples debated who would be the greatest among themselves. For many people, being big in the eyes of the world is important. Every one of wants to be a little Bubba! Achieving worldly success is a dream in many people’s mind. Being recognized as some body is a desire of our hearts. Who is going to be nominated? Who is going to be promoted? Who is the wealthiest person in the world? Who is the best actor or actress? Who is leading in the polls? Which network has the highest rate of viewers? Which football team is the best one? We learn to compete with others in the world to survive and to secure our future. When we are still young, we compete with other kids in the neighborhoods. Then we compete with other students in our classes. Later, we compete with co-workers and friends. We compete to get promotion. We compete for publicity. Everyone wants to stand out. Competition is part of human living.

The disciples of Jesus were human just like you and I are human. Jesus and his disciples were going through Galilee to Capernaum. Once they entered the house where they would be staying, Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you arguing about on the road?” They kept quiet. They did not want to admit because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest among them. They were competing. Jesus caught them off track. They were embarrassed. They became vain because they were entertaining worldly thinking. What we learn from this lesson is that God doesn’t want us to compete with others to become the greatest. There is only one who is the Greatest. That is God. We cannot compete to take God’s place. We are stewards. Each steward is given certain talents. There should be no competition in the Kingdom of God. Instead of competition, God wants us to take the challenge to become the best version of ourselves. We have one, two, three, four, five or ten talents. And God wants us to use all our talents and potentials to become the best version of ourselves in order to serve others out of love. We tend to engage in competitions with others for worldly gains, and forget to become the best version of what and whom God wants us to be.      

A Lesson to Learn

Dr. Melvin Cheatham, a medical doctor, tells about a friend of his named Barb Peters. Barb went with Dr. Cheatham and his wife to Kenya in East Africa on a mission trip one time. What she experienced there greatly impacted her life. From childhood, she wanted to become a medical doctor so she could serve God by working with the poor and the underprivileged people. So after that trip to Kenya, and in her fifties, she sold her home and moved into a humble place in order to afford to go to medical school. While in her first year of school, she supported herself by working a full‑time job in real estate sales. She studied hard and made it through the first year. She wrote to Dr. Cheatham to tell him of her studies and her desire to serve in the mission field. She wrote, “In about six years I will be ready to serve in a mission hospital.”

Dr. Cheatham replied, “How about now? You have two masters’ degrees already and a background in teaching. Someone like you is badly needed at a mission school in Londiani, Kenya. The teachers there need the expertise you have to train them, and they need it now.”

Now? Kenya? She gulped. Being a person who is used to the finer things in life and who takes germs very seriously, she had visions of tribal warfare, genocide, natives on the rampage, AIDS, malaria, the Ebola virus, and all sorts of other things. However, she managed enough courage to ask the next question: “Where is this Londiani?” Londiani was a small village in western Kenya. Another Christian missionary was already there and had started the school, and now building a medical clinic and dreamed of starting a small hospital.

Barb decided this was where she needed to be. However, when she announced to her grown children, “I am going to the jungle this summer to work as a missionary,” they were not encouraging. “You know, you’re losing it, Mother,” one said. Another commented, “I’m proud of you. Mom, but can’t you do something nice and safe that is a little bit closer to home than East Africa?” Another questioned her wisdom. “I don’t want you to die!”

Barb finally blurted out, “I tried to teach you how to live, and now I am going to teach you how to die.” 1

A Challenge to Be

That is insightful. We spend our lifetime learning how to live in the world, and very few of us spend time learning how to die. Every day we are getting closer to the grave. We need to learn to live a life that will lead us into the kingdom of God. Jesus came into the world not to live. His focus is not to make a living in the world. He came into the world to die. He died so that we may live. And he is teaching us not to make a living in the world, but how to live in order to enter into the Kingdom of God. He is telling us to work for treasures that will follow us into eternal life. The readings of the Scripture today describe two styles of behavior. There are the godly and the ungodly ways. There is a contrast drawn between the path taken by the wise or the upright and that taken by the foolish and sinful. Everyone is encouraged to choose the path of wisdom over the path of folly. The path of the foolish is revealed in various forms of social unrest: jealousy, selfish ambition, war, disorder and every foul practice. The path of godly wisdom shows fruits in purity, peace, gentleness, compliance, mercy, consistency and sincerity. We, therefore, are not to compete with others to be the greatest, because only God can be the Greatest. We are challenged to be the best version that God wants us to be. To be in the Kingdom of God, it is wise that we stop competing with others, and begin to challenge ourselves to be the best version that God wants us to be. The way to become the best version of the person God wants us to be is a servant of others. “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”

1 . Make a Difference: Responding to God’s Call to Love the World (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2004), pp. 37-38.