On Sunday evening, Tom Brady etched his name further into the history books, winning his fifth Super Bowl as quarterback of the New England Patriots. Even before the historic comeback win in overtime, Brady was already considered by many to be the greatest QB in NFL history. After the 34-28 victory, it seems that there is little debate. The GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) tag has been attached to Brady for good reason. With his win on Sunday, he surpassed Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw to become the only quarterback in NFL history with five rings.
Deep down we all want to be great. It's part of growing up in America. From early on we are taught that we should chase after greatness.
We live in a culture obsessed with greatness. Whether we're talking about the greatest QB of all time, the greatest basketball player (is there really a debate with this one?), the greatest president, or rapper, or whatever, we are infatuated with the idea of greatness. I think it's because deep down we all want to be great. It's part of growing up in America. From early on we are taught that we should chase after greatness. I remember a poster in the hallway of my elementary school that said, "Aim for the moon, and even if you miss it, you'll be among the stars."
Like us, Jesus's disciples wanted to be great. In fact, In Mark 9 we read that on one occasion they got in a debate with one another about which of them was the greatest. I laughed at the thought of this until I remembered the last time I was at a pastor's conference. Those settings can be more insecure than a middle school dance, as every pastor in the room, myself included, desperately boasts of the goings on in his church, trying to prove himself before his peers. As I reflected on that, I realized that I'm not all that different than the disciples. I too want to be considered great.
In the face of their quest for greatness (and my own), Jesus gives a different definition of greatness. He teaches that greatness is not about one's status, but about a heart of service. Greatness is not defined by recognition, notoriety, or privilege, it's defined by a posture of humility and servanthood.
Jesus is the ultimate example of such greatness. His entire time spent on earth was one of humble service. The epitome of his greatness is perhaps seen most vividly in John 13, when, on the brink of his death, we read that after supper his took off his outer robe, wrapped a towel around himself, filled a basin with water, and began to wash his disciples' feet. John tells us that when he had finished, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am." But though Jesus held a position of power, he did not lord it over those whom he outranked. He used it instead to serve them. Jesus wanted his disciples to learn that instead of lording authority over others, you instead ought to leverage it to serve others.
Jesus gives a different definition of greatness. He teaches that greatness is not about one's status, but about a heart of service. Greatness is not defined by recognition, notoriety, or privilege, it's defined by a posture of humility and servanthood.
D.A. Carson explains that casting a shadow over this foot washing episode was the eminence of a wooden cross that Jesus would soon bear. The washing of feet points forward to a greater act of service that was about to take place, when Jesus would climb a hill called Golgotha and be crucified. In this next act of service, Jesus would not merely wash away dirt from dirty toes; he would wash away the sins of the world. True greatness, Jesus shows us, is not defined by accolades, achievements, and self-promotion, but by self-sacrifice. "For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
As the world around us obsesses over greatness, we should indeed make greatness the pursuit of our lives as well, not in the name of prestige, or positions of power, but in seeking to emulate our Lord and Servant-King, who sacrificed himself for us, and now says to us, "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you."