The Measure of Success

Mark 9: 30-37

The lesson Jesus has been teaching by his example since the day of his birth, he now teaches with words.

And this lesson is a big one: the nature of true success.

When Jesus and his apostles sit down to relax in Capernaum after a day of walking the hot, dusty roads of Galilee, he knows exactly what they have been talking about – success, glory, greatness. But the apostles are too embarrassed to admit it; they suspect that their interest in worldly success is too self-centered to be praiseworthy.

But our Lord’s response is surprising. He doesn’t tell them that they should not desire to excel, to achieve, to do great things. He doesn’t condemn that very normal impulse – because he knows that achieving things, making a difference in the world, is a basic need felt by every human heart. This is one of the purposes of our lives: being a sign of God’s goodness by making a positive difference in the world.

So Jesus doesn’t scold them for wanting to do something great. Instead, he tells them what true greatness really is.

The great task for every Christian isn’t to achieve fame and fortune, popularity, power, and worldly success. Rather, it’s the same task that Christ himself undertook: to serve others, to make others happy, to reach out to those who are weak and in need, like little children.  The key to greatness in Christ’s Kingdom is equated with humility, an attitude of the heart that puts the good of others ahead of one’s own preferences: it’s self-giving, not self-getting. He doesn’t say to his apostles, “Don’t strive to achieve great things,” but he does point out where true, lasting, fulfilling greatness lies – in loving one’s neighbor as Christ has loved them. In the practice of that love, and in not being afraid to talk about our love for Christ to others, we allow Christ to live in us and He does so gladly but he expects that love to flow through us. He expects that we will be rivers, not reservoirs.

Jesus is the Servant-Lord; and we, his faithful disciples, are called to follow in those demanding footsteps.

There is a lovely, real life story that I would like to share with you. It deals with two young athletes preparing for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Their names are Kay Poe and Ester Kim. Kay and Esther Kim grew up as best friends and fierce competitors. Their sport was tae kwon do, which was featured for the first time in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

As Kay and Esther got older, they found themselves in different weight classes, so they rarely met in competition. In the pre-Olympic trials they were each favored to win their classes.

There was just one problem. The United States would be sending representatives from only two of the four weight classes to the Olympics, so only one of them would be able to go to Sydney. In the last moments of the semi-final bout Kay seriously dislocated her kneecap. In spite of her injury, she fought strongly enough to win the match and her division. As she hobbled off the floor her Olympic dreams seemed over. She still had one more match to win – this one against her friend, Esther Kim.

Esther saw her coach carrying her friend Kay back to the dressing room. The outcome of the final match was clear; all Esther had to do was show up, and she was on her way to the Olympics. Clearly, Esther, not Kay, would be going to the Olympics.

But Esther saw the situation from a different perspective – as a chance to do something truly great for a friend. She decided to bow out of the final match and concede victory to her injured friend .She gave up her Olympic dream so that Kay could realize hers.

When Esther informed Kay of her decision, Kay protested, but Esther told her: “You deserve it more than I do. I’m not throwing my dreams away; I’m putting my dreams in you.”

Esther signed the scorecard, withdrawing from the match. Then the two friends had to bow to each other on the mat to make it official. Kay’s coach helped her walk to one side of the mat; Esther walked to the other. The two young women bowed; the referee signaled Poe the winner. Then they locked arms and slowly walked off the mat together, with tears in their eyes, smiles on their faces, and the crowd’s applause in their ears.

Esther later told stunned reporters, “There’s more than one way to be a champion.”

As we live our Christian life, there are many opportunities for us to be true champions.

Most of us are able to see the beauty of humility and humble service to others; we can understand intuitively why this is the mark of True Success. But putting this idea into practice is not so easy. We are willing to commit “random acts of kindness” now and then, because they make us feel good. But real progress towards spiritual maturity requires a deeper commitment. It requires a commitment that we will turn our lives in a different direction – always toward Him. Always seeking ways to bring Him the glory by glorifying Him in those we deal with. Do you really get that point of glorification?

Just like the disciples, so many times we find ourselves looking to be the greatest. Society encourages us to do whatever it takes to be successful, to be “on top.” Frequently in our struggle to succeed we lose sight of Christ and end up relegating him to second place.

Our Lord gives the secret to success in today’s Gospel passage: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” This is often in contradiction with the ways of the world. The Gospel teaches us that we must humble ourselves like Jesus did in order to achieve true greatness. Jesus came to serve, not to be served, and the climax of this service was his death for us on Calvary.

Success then in the spiritual life begins with our childlike trust in God. Jesus places a child before the disciples and invites them to consider that child’s relationship of trust and simplicity before his parents. In the same way, we too must become like children before God, our heavenly Father.

We need to be able to say, Lord Jesus, from now on I intend to entrust my anxieties and worries to you more readily.  Help me to put all my cares in your most capable hands and teach me to trust in you as a little child. I know your great love for me.  Help me to strengthen my confidence in you.

In reality, we need to begin entrusting each day into God’s hands and living as a child does alongside his/her father. That is hard to do when you have 30, 40, 60 years behind you. But the ability to turn to Him and to turn our lives into being His servant is the key to true success. Glorifying Him through service to others is what this faith is all about!

Starting today, let each of seek to pursue greatness in the eyes of God.



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