Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness... If you want to be great - wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's your new definition of greatness.
- "The Drum Major Instinct" Sermon, preached Feb. 4 1968, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, GA
With the nation celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this week, I thought it would be good to reflect on some words of Dr. King's here on the blog.
When Dr. King spoke of Jesus giving us "a new norm of greatness," he was reflecting on Christ's teaching in Mark 10:43-44. After the disciples James and John sought Jesus's affirmation that they were the greatest of the twelve, our Lord responds: "Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all."
And this new 'greatness' wasn't just something Christ talked about--he was the great servant of all. Jesus who fed the hungry; Jesus who tended to the sick; Jesus who washed the disciples feet. "Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).
But greatness isn't the only thing flipped on its head by Jesus's topsy-turvy vision of the world. Far from it.
Penniless is the new definition of rich. (Luke 12:33)
Mercy is the new definition of judgment. (John 8:3-11)
Forbearance is the new definition of self-defense. (Matthew 5:39)
Laying down your life is the new definition of love. (John 15:13)
Jesus calls us to all sorts of new things.
And more than all of that, Jesus himself, his life, is the new definition--or, better, the new picture of the old definition--of human life.
Human beings were created in God's image (Genesis 1:26-27), but when sin came and warped God's creation, the image of God in us was distorted, in need of repair. We need to be new created in God's likeness again (Ephesians 4:22-24). And Jesus is the mold we're to be conformed to; he's the perfect image of God (Colossians 1:15). Jesus is the new norm for human.
And so we try to imitate Christ and those following his example (John 13:15; 1 Corinthians 11:1); we try to let the Holy Spirit transform us by renewing our minds (Romans 12:2).
But it's not finally a question of what we do or don't do, how much we can mold our lives after Jesus.
If you want to be new created, you need to be 'in Christ' (2 Corinthians 5:17). "In Christ" means participating in Christ, being a "member" of Christ, a part of his body (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). In Christ we reach the new norm, the new definition of our lives. Or rather, he reaches it for us.
The norm's been changed; the definition's been rewritten. Go be new.
Go and imitate Jesus and the people who seem to look an awful lot like Jesus.
Let God's Holy Spirit touch you with grace and transform you; make yourself available to the Spirit, in prayer, in worship, with Holy Communion, through hearing the Word.
Let Jesus claim you; be new "in Christ."
If you let it, this new definition, this new norm, will redefine your life, re-norm your life--turn everything upside down.
You can read Dr. King's entire sermon, "The Drum Major Instinct" online here. It moves in a completely different, but powerful, direction with Mark 10.