What Does Greatness Look Like?
In our culture, greatness seems always to be the mistress of money, power, or prestige. Those can be signs that something has been accomplished, but it appears that God’s view may be more nuanced. Recall Jesus positioning Himself so He could watch people giving at the temple. He noted that some gave large amounts, but then the widow gave what we call the “widow’s mite.” It was the smallest coin in the Roman world. Yet Jesus, inexplicably remarked that this woman was to be noted, for she had given out of her poverty and had given all, whereas the others gave out of their abundance. It was she who the Lord lifted up to a place of recognition, upon whose head He placed the laurel wreath of greatness and invited others to take notice.
This suggests that the values of the Kingdom are sometimes at odds with the values of any human-made culture. I recently officiated at my wife’s brother’s funeral. She is one of eleven children and Curtis, a younger sibling, had died. By many of the standards of this world he would hardly have been called great. He had trouble learning, which now suggests that he was not of lower intelligence, but suffered from dyslexia. He was not handsome, struggling with his weight all his life. He never achieved a notable position in any organization.
Yet there was a ripple of joy at the service, for everyone liked Curtis. He was optimistic. Even when he went to a nursing home due to health issues and just days before a leg would be amputated, when asked how he was he would say, “fine.” Those who knew him knew he was not ignoring reality. He just didn’t place as much stock in some things as others might. He had a fabulous memory, remembering birthdays and names of brother and sisters, in-laws, and nieces and nephews. No small number in a family of eleven. But family mattered. Church mattered. He always went and would save money so he could go to summer Bible Camp every year.
I recall reading that Getty, once the richest man in the world, having left a wake of broken relationships said, “I would give half my wealth for a happy marriage.” Perhaps that was the problem. Only half. He would not live with abandon. Whereas the widow, in giving all, declared her loyalty.
My grandmother was poor. Her husband died in a car accident when they had three very young daughters. She supported her family by babysitting and doing other people’s laundry. She lived in a small house, set back from the street, which he always kept painted so the city wouldn’t condemn it. Every year when we came to visit my dad would do some project, wiring, cupboards, and more. One year we repaired a floor that had a tree growing through it. But a missionary to Bolivia said that whenever they would come to her church to raise shares of support which were $20 a month, my grandmother would take out a $1 monthly share. He said, “It was all she had, but it was her way of telling the Lord and the world whose side she was on.”
Perhaps Jesus saw in the widow the spirit He carried, “laying down his life for the redemption of the world.”