The words of Jesus often strike us as paradoxical: To be free, you must be a slave, to live you have to die, to be great, you must be humble! Hundreds of books have been written trying to understand the paradox of Jesus and His influence on humanity. The fact is His life shouldn’t have mattered much at all when you think of the millions of lives lived of just religious philosophers and leaders in human history.
But, still, the life of Jesus Christ has radically changed human history. The story of humanity simply can’t be told without His story being central to the narrative. Why? Why does the life of an obscure, wandering itinerant Jewish rabbi, in an out of the way part of the ancient Roman Empire, Who was executed by the State with the collusion of the religious leaders of His own people, and who was reported to do some fantastical and unbelievable “miracles” change the course of human history?
Look at our lesson today in Matthew 18:1-11:
At that time, the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the Gehenna of fire.
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven. For the Son of man came to save the lost.”
The Life of Jesus Christ transforms human history precisely because of His consistency of message and the reality of His ministry. Jesus Christ lived out His preaching. He came to us in humility. God, choosing to “empty” Himself of His prerogatives so that He could rescue us from our greatest enemy: mortality.
And how does He do this? Humility. He, Who is All Powerful, makes Himself powerless. He makes Himself “nothing” and becomes obedient to the humiliating death of the cross SO THAT His humility can show us the way to true greatness ourselves. It won’t be through our supposed “strengths” or “power” or “intelligence” or “politics” or any other deluded self sufficiency. Greatness will only be possible through childlike humility and wonder.
And the Lord warns us of the natural consequences of trying to get to greatness without humility. He clearly warns us that, while temptations are inevitable because we are created with freedom, “woe” to those who foolishly, and blindly, cooperate with the temptations. Jesus goes on to tell you and me that our priorities have to set humility and freedom from the slavery of sin even above our own bodies. If your eye sins, get rid of it and avoid the “fire” of the trash heap that your life will degenerate into if you never aspire to the freedom of humble greatness.
Today, are you living your life, or is life living you? Do you desire to be free and participate in the greatness of your potential? Then it will be because you dare to embrace a childlike humility and not participate in a world or society that blindly thinks greatness comes from some notion of power. Being Orthodox on Purpose is true freedom and true greatness!