Part 2 of 3
CHANGING THE TERMS OF GREATNESS. I'm exploring an ancient way of living that eclipses personal and social change theories and practics, holding promise for the future of a very complex world. It begins with a personal choice to be deployed and to serve (instead of being served). Within this choice is the seed of a radically different definition of greatness. To the point: Jesus' self-emptying and self-giving changed forever how the world interprets human greatness. The recognition of "greatness" ever after has been turned toward kenosis.
NON-TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERSHIP. Perhaps once upon a time greatness might have been defined by having so many people and resources at your beck and call. This fantasy of greatness continues to tickle the imaginations of many would-be leaders and influential people today. They do, in fact, have people working for them and they are, in fact, very influential. But they have chosen a fading and non-transformational path, a path that for a while looks and feels great but ultimately is exposed for what it really is—self-serving.
A NEW PATH TO GREATNESS. When Jesus told his followers that whoever would be greatest would be the servant of all, he was setting a course for transformation in persons, relationships, institutions, communities, nations and among nations. Instead of perpetuating the “serve me” masks and shell games played by masters, magistrates, and Caesars, Jesus models a path that transforms leaders even as it transforms life for those they influence. It signals not only the end of dominating people, it spells the end of leadership that can do everything but fulfill the heart and God-given purpose of the person granted responsibility with others.
DOWN IS THE WAY UP. In Paul’s eloquent poem found in Philippians 2:6-11, Jesus sets aside his entitlements, privileges, position, exclusivity, and power in order to become a servant. Going further, he gives himself as a servant who serves to the point of death, ultimately dying a scandalous death on Roman cross. Is that the way to greatness—downward mobility and death? Paul’s poem continues, pointing out that as a result of Jesus’ ultimate self-emptying and self-giving for the sake of others, he was exalted to the highest place and makes a life-changing offer for all people everywhere.
DIVINE ECONOMY. Gerald Hawthorne calls this the “divine economy.” He puts it this way: “by giving a person receives, by serving he is served, by losing his life he finds it, by dying he lives, by humbling himself he is exalted. The one follows the other as night follows day, but always in this order—self-sacrifice first before the self is exalted by God.”
CAN EVERYONE BE GREAT? Others have followed this kenosis path, leaving privilege and typical patterns of power and influence. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. are two obvious recent examples of kenosis living that brings about both personal and social transformation. These men were being changed with every self-relinquishing, self-giving step they took for the sake of justice and compassion for others. King captured the essence of this path succinctly: “Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.”
BEYOND DOMINION AND PHILANTHROPY. Gandhi and King are certainly not alone in emulating the promise and power of kenosis. The last two millennia are rife with people who chose to serve and give themselves for the sake of justice, compassion, and the beloved community without question of personal cost. What their sacrifice procured for their compatriots and communities far outweighs anything philanthropic morsels tossed into the mix by powerful but largely self-serving people ever has or ever will.