“Make America great again.” This was the rallying cry of Donald Trump as he ran for the office of President of the United States. Wrapped up in this slogan is the underlying assumption that America was great at one time, and that it is not great any longer. Those are debatable assumptions for another day.
Today, I’ve been thinking simply about the questions that arise from that statement. What would make America great? How do you define and measure greatness?
For some, greatness is simply a function of who is in power at a given moment. Some are content to consider America to be great if the right political figurehead is in the office or the right ideology is holding sway. This is why many Democrats don’t believe that America could ever be great with Donald Trump as President. But had things played out differently on election night I think the same sentiment would be shared by Republicans had the tables been turned. Many Republicans would feel that America could never be great with Hillary Clinton in office.
For others, greatness is a won or lost on the battlefield. America is great so long as that greatness is displayed in domination by force. As just one example, many people were upset over the events surrounding President Obama’s famous “red line” in Syria. When that “red line” was crossed and it was proven that Assad had used chemical weapons on civilians, President Obama’s failure to act decisively was seen as weakness. And what will make America great again is for America to assert itself forcefully in the world once again. America will be great when it is feared.
For still others, greatness is measured in other ways. Greatness can be measured economically, or through diplomatic victories, or through victories in the never ending social wars.
Jesus measures greatness very differently than we do.
Jesus once said, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:42-45
Much to the dismay of the Jewish leaders and religious authorities, Jesus did not come to “Make Israel great again.” He came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. He came teaching that greatness in God’s kingdom looked very different than what most people in His day, and our own, considered it to be.
Jesus didn’t just teach that; He lived it out. On the night before He was crucified He shared a meal with His disciples. And after the meal He got up, took off His outer garment, tied a towel around His waist and began to wash His disciples’ feet. This was very literally the job of a servant, the lowest servant at that. This was why Peter got so upset when it was his turn to have his feet washed by Jesus. Peter understood that Jesus was greater than himself, and as such he believed that he (Peter) should be doing the servant’s work, not Jesus. But Jesus had other ideas.
When Jesus had finished He sat down and said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 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. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” -John 13:12-16
Greatness in the kingdom of God is, in many ways, the complete opposite of greatness in the eyes of the world. Greatness in God’s kingdom isn’t measured in the exercise of power one person over another. Greatness in God’s kingdom isn’t measured in the victorious use of force on the battlefield against our enemies. Greatness isn’t measured by financial success, or diplomatic victories, or even by scoring points in some legislative fashion in the unending social wars.
Greatness in the eyes of God involves humility and service. Greatness happens not on a national scale, but an individual one. Jesus was once asked, “Who is the greatest in kingdom of heaven?” Jesus did what no one expected. He called a child out of the crowd and said, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:1,4